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As Donald Trump ignores deepening coronavirus crisis, Joe Biden calls for urgent response


The continuing power struggle between two men with diametrically different philosophies on how the US should handle the virus has left the nation rudderless at this critical moment — forced by Trump into a governing crisis as he refuses to let the transition to the Biden presidency proceed and pass on knowledge that could be critical to slowing the spread of the virus next year.

This past week, some Republicans in Congress finally seemed to take note of how the President’s blockade was threatening national security — as Republican Sens. James Lankford of Oklahoma, Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Senate Majority Whip John Thune of South Dakota, among others, stepped up to say that the President-elect should begin receiving intelligence briefings as is customary during the transition of power.
But there is no indication that top GOP leaders are applying that same logic to the deadly increase in coronavirus cases, even though the number of patients in US hospitals hit an all time pandemic high last week, according to data from the Covid Tracking Project. As of Saturday, more than 69,000 Americans were hospitalized, according to the organization’s tallies.

The President is still adhering to the same hands-off approach that led so many voters to reject his leadership on Election Day, inaccurately stating that the increase in cases is the result of increased testing as he tries to focus public attention on his administration’s efforts to speed up a vaccine through Operation Warp Speed.

The President spent most of Saturday golfing and tweeting his baseless and debunked conspiracy theories about how the election was rigged, and driving by a crowd of his supporters who gathered in Washington to protest the election results on the basis of his lies and propaganda.

He barely addressed the virus on Twitter Saturday, tweeting: “Congress must now do a Covid Relief Bill. Needs Democrats support. Make it big and focused. Get it done!”

Amid that leadership vacuum, many doctors and top medical experts are bracing for even greater holiday spikes, noting that Americans have simply let their guards down and given in to the desire to return to normal life. The President unquestionably played a role in those attitudes as the administration abandoned its coronavirus task force briefings months ago and he tried to win reelection by advancing the falsehood that the US was “rounding the corner.”

RELATED: Live results from CNN’s Election Center

Given the complexities of rapid vaccine distribution and the potential for catastrophic consequences if doctors, hospitals and first responders don’t have what they need to handle the current rise in Covid-19 cases, Democrats — and even some Republicans from past administrations — are sounding the alarm about the need for more communication between the outgoing and incoming administrations in this grave moment of national crisis.

“We have a president who has gone AWOL,” said Leon Panetta, who served as White House chief of staff under former President Bill Clinton and as CIA director and secretary of defense under former President Barack Obama. “AWOL from the election and its results, AWOL from Covid-19 and the impact it’s having, AWOL from the transition and frankly AWOL from the presidency.”

“That has created a dangerous moment here,” Panetta told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Saturday night on “The Situation Room.”

Lack of communication raises alarm about virus response

Trump is blocking any meaningful exchange of coronavirus information — beginning with the refusal of his appointee at the General Services Administration to ascertain the election, the first step that would allow the flow of transition funds and streamlined background checks for incoming staff.
That’s forced the Biden team to get up to speed on the pandemic response by back-channeling with governors, members of the private sector and the medical community as they try to shape the nation’s coronavirus response plan for next year.
While Biden is publicly projecting calm about the governing crisis — allowing the Trump campaign’s election challenges to work their way through the courts, where they are amassing a growing string of defeats — he called for “urgent action” Friday by the Trump administration, including an acknowledgment of how serious the current Covid-19 situation is.
As Trump refuses to concede, his agencies awkwardly prepare what they can for a Biden transition

“This crisis demands a robust and immediate federal response, which has been woefully lacking. I am the president-elect, but I will not be president until next year,” Biden said, underscoring the limitations of his position. “The crisis does not respect dates on the calendar, it is accelerating right now…. Right now is a moment for shared responsibility and shared action. Together, we have the power to rein in this virus. And I promise you, from the moment I am sworn in on January 20, I will do everything in my power to lead this unified national effort.”

The President-elect’s advisers have been increasingly vocal about their concerns about the lack of information sharing between the current and future administrations.

“This is truly a national security threat,” Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious diseases specialist, epidemiologist and Biden Transition Covid-19 board member, said on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” Friday evening. “I cannot even imagine another situation — if we were in the midst of a war — that you wouldn’t have handoff of information and plans to a succeeding president.”

As the US smashed through another set of coronavirus records on Friday evening, Dr. Vivek Murthy, co-chair of Biden’s transition coronavirus advisory board, told Blitzer it was “a grim day for the country.”

“We’re at a point now, even pre-Thanksgiving, where we are surging beyond any level that we have seen over the last eight months,” Murthy, a former surgeon general under President Barack Obama, said on “The Situation Room.” “What we do over these next few weeks is going to have a profound impact on whether this spread increases or whether we ultimately control the spread of this virus.”

Local leaders weigh stronger measures to curb the virus

In the absence of a vigorous federal response, local leaders are once again considering more dramatic action to control the spread, which could create major economic and logistical disruptions.

The 2.4% test positivity rate in New York City is now close enough to the 3% threshold that could lead the city to close schools and transition students to remote learning, a possibility that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo discussed during a call with journalists Saturday where he added that some schools might be able to “test out” of closures if they have a much lower positivity rate than the surrounding area.

The resurgence in Oregon, where cases topped more than 1,000 a day for the third day in a row Saturday, led Gov. Kate Brown to announce a “two week freeze” on Friday that will limit social gatherings to six people and two households, close restaurants and bars and place new limits on the number of people who can gather within faith-based organizations. The freeze will span from November 18 to December 2.

“I know it’s hard and I know everybody is weary but we are trying to stop this ferocious virus from spreading,” Brown said.

In Los Angeles, where cases have surged from about a 1,000 a day three weeks ago to nearly 4,000 on Saturday, according Mayor Eric Garcetti, officials created the largest testing center in America at Dodger Stadium — ushering some 8,000 people through the testing regimen on a single day this past week.

On Saturday, the Navajo Nation ordered a new three-week stay-at-home lockdown, restricting travel and only allowing residents to leave their homes for emergencies or to pick up groceries, medicine and firewood.

“We are inching closer and closer to a major public health crisis in which we could potentially see our hospitals filling up with patients,” Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a statement. “Our health care system on the Navajo Nation cannot sustain a long-term surge in Covid-19 cases. The safest place to be is at home.”

CNN’s Elizabeth Joseph, Sheena Jones, Jenn Selva, Konstantin Toropin and Paul Vercammen contributed to this report.

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Trump shows transition will be as turbulent as his presidency


Trump’s refusal to concede the election, delusional tweets about states tipping his way and failure to so far grant President-elect Joe Biden access to federal funding and resources to power up his administration mean America is in for a rocky 71 days. Trump may be a lame duck, but he retains the authorities of the presidency until noon on January 20, and his chokehold on the Republican Party was if anything strengthened by winning 70 million votes last week. So the President has the power — institutional and political — and apparently the motivation to create a great deal of disruption before returning to civilian life.
Attorney General William Barr, who has shown a propensity for using his own power to advance the President’s political aspirations, on Monday told prosecutors they should examine unsupported allegations of voting irregularities before states certify results in the coming weeks. The move will raise concerns of a fresh attempt by the Trump administration to overturn the will of voters, but like the President’s campaign, Barr’s memo failed to produce any evidence of fraud/ However, it did lead the top election crimes prosecutor to quit in protest over the change in policy.

And Trump waited only two days after the election was called for Biden to start exacting retribution on those he sees as enemies inside his administration.

Esper’s firing reflected the President’s capacity to rock key agencies of the government in his remaining weeks in office to make it easier to enforce his will and create disruption in the government that could hobble Biden’s early days in office.

“Frankly, he can do a lot of damage, by destabilizing every major agency, by firing a whole series of senior leaders,” Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Monday.

Monday’s developments emphasized that while Biden’s margins in states where the result of the election have yet to be finalized make any overturning of results almost impossible, Republicans are seeking to create a shadow over his triumph in order to delegitimize his presidency in the minds of millions of conservative voters. That may end up being Trump’s most destructive legacy.

A transition that is more important than normal

Trump agency tasked with transition process has yet to recognize Biden's victory

Traditionally, and in accordance with law, an outgoing administration makes available financing, office space and other federal resources to make the business of inheriting an entity as vast as the multi-trillion dollar US government as smooth as possible, on the principle that even political opponents share a desire to preserve the national interest. Typically, this process begins within hours of an election being called.

New administrations swiftly send “landing teams” into federal agencies to get up to speed in operations, to consider staffing needs and to receive briefings on vital programs. In national security and military departments, incoming officials learn of covert activity under way, behind-closed-doors diplomacy and threat information that a new president needs to know. The process also allows officials to get a jump on establishing their national security clearances.

The current transition is even more critical given the raging coronavirus pandemic that is as bad now as it has ever been and a consequent economic crisis.
But so far, Trump-appointed General Services Administration administrator Emily Murphy has yet to trigger the procedure to initiate the transition — known of ascertainment — as the President continues to insist baselessly that his second term is being stolen by Democrats.

His attitude — hardly surprising after his consistent prioritization of his personal and political goals — and the organizational roadblocks mean the next few months will be as acrimonious and chaotic as the previous three-and-a-half years of his presidency.

“I think this is going to be the most hostile and tumultuous presidential transition in modern history, at least since the 1932 transition in the middle of the Great Depression,” said Rebecca Lissner, a non-resident scholar at Georgetown University and co-author of the new book “An Open World” that lays out a new roadmap for US foreign policy.

“What we need to fear is what can happen when you have an outgoing Trump administration that actively hobbles the incoming Biden team whether by virtue of incompetence or whether by virtue of outright sabotage, something that does become a more distinct possibility in light of the President’s refusal to accept the result of the election,” Lissner said.

Biden team steps up rhetoric

Biden transition team announces coronavirus advisers, including whistleblower Rick Bright

Some national security experts are worried that the President could take steps such as ordering all US troops out of Afghanistan or seek to radically change the US footprint in Asia — moves that might be difficult for Biden to reverse.

And if a President who has consistently chafed at the limits of his power and politicized the Justice Department pursues pardons for his acolytes caught up in criminal cases — or even seeks to create prospective immunity for his family members or himself — he will stoke massive controversy and recriminations.

So far, the Biden team has sought to give the President space to digest his defeat. But with the Trump campaign vowing to pursue long-shot legal challenges, delays in starting the transition become more serious the more time passes.

Trump’s obstruction contrasts with recent handovers of power in which presidents have ordered their staff to do everything to accommodate their successor’s teams. Obama administration officials were surprised and grateful with cooperation from President George W. Bush’s White House during the last economic crisis in 2008-09. President Barack Obama sought to offer the same courtesy to Trump’s nascent administration, but in many cases incoming officials on a mission to gut the federal government turned a blind eye.

The President-elect on Monday got straight to work on the most important task his administration will face from day one: tackling the pandemic. He announced the formation of an advisory board that sent a strong message that science and not politics would dictate the fight against the virus.

It was an almost surreal moment, after months of Trump’s misinformation over the virus, when a figure of authority who is close to assuming the mantle of the presidency pleaded with Americans of all political persuasions to wear masks.

“It’s not a political statement,” Biden said.

One advantage for Biden is that his staff numbers seasoned Washington hands such as Ron Klain — who served as chief of staff to vice presidents Biden and Al Gore — and Jake Sullivan, a former senior national security aide, who are prepped for senior West Wing roles. Despite such experience, however, Democratic operatives have been on the outside for the last four years. So it was significant to see Coons strike a new note of urgency on Monday evening on the need to get the process moving properly as the Biden camp realizes a contested transition is a possibility.

“President Trump needs to accept that he has lost the election. His allies and colleagues here in the Senate need to speak up about this matter and we need to move forward,” Coons said on “The Situation Room.” Those remarks will be interpreted as a calculated escalation of the Biden camp’s rhetoric since Coons is close to Biden and is considered a possible candidate for a Cabinet post, including secretary of state.

The Biden team has come to realize that the transition is going to be more contentious than they had initially assumed, CNN’s Jeff Zeleny reports.

The GOP calculation

Top Republicans skeptical court challenges will change election, even as many defend Trump

Only a minority of Republicans, including Sens. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, have publicly accepted that Biden won the election. Others, as they have throughout the Trump administration, have treated the situation with delicacy because they hope to have a political future.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a Senate floor speech that the President had every right to pursue legal challenges to the election despite the fact that even GOP officials running elections in key states say there is no evidence to support Trump’s claims of massive fraud.

“Let’s not have any lectures. No lectures, about how the President should immediately, cheerfully accept preliminary election results from the same characters who just spent four years refusing to accept the validity of the last election and who insinuated that this one would be illegitimate too, if they lost again,” McConnell said on the Senate floor, referring to Democrats.

The newly reelected Kentucky senator, is as always, plotting several moves ahead in his political power game. While the nation’s interests might dictate a smooth transition, McConnell’s Republicans have no incentive to cross Trump’s fervent supporters. A likely pair of Georgia run-off elections is looming in January that will decide control of the Senate. And looking forward, there remains no option for Republicans, as they contemplate a tough slate of seats to defend in the 2022 midterm elections, but to rely on Trump’s base.

Still, there is also a sense that Republicans are going out of their way to give the President time to accept reality — just the latest occasion when his ego has dictated the course of governance over the last four years.

As the days pass, and the Trump campaign fails to produce convincing evidence and arguments to back up the President’s claims of electoral fraud, the inevitability of Biden’s assumption of power will set in.

Many foreign leaders are already looking past Trump. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released a photograph of himself during a telephone conversation with he President-elect on Monday.

Even inside the White House, where sources told CNN that aides have been threatened with the sack if they look for new jobs, the fiction that Trump will be in power past January is beginning to fray. The President now sees “a path to losing,” an adviser told CNN’s Jim Acosta on Monday evening.

But that doesn’t mean the next two months are going to be an easy ride.

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Donald Trump uses Midwestern swing to launch false attacks on doctors while Covid cases rise


“Our doctors are very smart people. So what they do is they say, ‘I’m sorry but everybody dies of Covid,’ ” Trump said at a rally in Waterford Township, Michigan, on Friday. Unearthing conspiracy theories from the bowels of the Internet, the President claimed with no evidence that doctors from other countries list underlying diseases as the cause of death, while US doctors choose coronavirus.

“With us, when in doubt — choose Covid,” Trump said. “Now they’ll say ‘Oh that’s terrible what he said,’ but that’s true. It’s like $2,000 more, so you get more money.”

Trump’s falsehood about doctors on the front lines of the pandemic angered Biden, who criticized the President for attacking first-responders at his subsequent rallies in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, and in Milwaukee.

“The President of the United States is accusing the medical profession of making up Covid deaths so they make more money. Doctors and nurses go to work every day to save lives. They do their jobs. Donald Trump should stop attacking them and do his job,” Biden said in Minnesota.

View Trump and Biden head-to-head polling
The clashing messages of the two candidates stood in stark contrast as they both campaigned in Wisconsin and Minnesota on Friday, with each man attempting to broaden his potential path to 270 electoral votes. Trump won Wisconsin by less than a percentage point in 2016 but narrowly lost Minnesota, and he and Biden are now vying for those pivotal blue-collar voters who abandoned Democrats four years ago to choose Trump’s outsider message.
Though some of those voters have drifted away from the President because they disapprove of his handling of the virus, he has continued to insist on holding huge rallies — he has more than a dozen planned in seven states before Election Day, including four in Pennsylvania on Saturday alone — which only draws attention to the fact that he is dangerously flouting the safety guidelines of his own experts at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, daring Americans to hold him accountable for it on Election Day.
Older women voters want to send a message to Trump in November

Biden delivered a closing argument grounded in his desire to unify the country and be a president for all people, pledging to work “as hard for those who don’t support me as those who do.”

The former vice president told Minnesota voters that Trump has “simply given up” and questioned how many lives could have been saved if Trump had been candid with the American people about the risks the virus posed early this year. The former vice president also pleaded with voters not to give up their sense of optimism, while acknowledging that was a difficult request at a time when nearly 230,000 Americans have died from the virus.

Meanwhile, Trump slashed against the “arrogant, far-left political class,” suggested Biden would flood Minnesota with terrorist refugees, and made the wild claim that Democrats like Biden want to “imprison you in your homes while letting anarchists, agitators and vandals roam free as they destroy your cities and states.”

Trump’s claims about profiteering doctors sparked a backlash beyond the campaign trail. Susan Bailey, the president of the American Medical Association, said in a statement that the claim that doctors are overcounting Covid-19 patients or “lying to line their pockets is a malicious, outrageous, and completely misguided charge.”

“Covid-19 cases are at record highs today,” Bailey said as Friday marked the highest single day of cases in the United States since the pandemic began. “Rather than attacking us and lobbing baseless charges at physicians, our leaders should be following the science and urging adherence to the public health steps we know work — wearing a mask, washing hands and practicing physical distancing.”

Emergency physician and former Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Friday night that doctors are risking their lives at a time when one person is now being diagnosed with Covid-19 every second.

“We have one American dying of coronavirus every two minutes, and that number is increasing,” Wen said on “The Situation Room.” “In some states, one in two people who are getting tested are testing positive. That means that we’re not doing nearly enough testing, and that every person who tests positive is a canary in a coal mine.”

Wen added that there are likely to be “many more dozens of other cases that we’re not detecting, and that escalation is going to increase in the weeks to come.”

Trump rails against nation’s Covid-19 focus

The angry tone of Trump’s rallies and his attacks on doctors stem in part from his frustration that the country is so focused on the pandemic in the closing days of the election. Poll after poll has shown that coronavirus is the top issue on the minds of American voters and a broad majority of the electorate disapproves of Trump’s handling of the virus.

While Trump has gotten away with holding large rallies in other states, Minnesota has been particularly vigilant both with enforcement and contact tracing, and Trump lashed out on Friday at Minnesota officials who curtailed the size of his rally due to safety concerns.

The Minnesota Department of Health reported three Covid-19 outbreaks related to Trump campaign events held in the state in September. The state’s health department has linked at least 23 cases to Trump campaign rallies with the President in Bemidji and Duluth and a rally with Vice President Mike Pence in Minneapolis, according to information the department provided to CNN in an email last week.

But dismissing safety concerns as irrelevant, Trump argued that state officials, including Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, a Democrat, have created two sets of standards — one for the protesters who demonstrated against police brutality after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May and a different set for his supporters.

“Keith Ellison sided with flag burning extremists over law-abiding Americans. He treats you like second-class citizens,” Trump said in Rochester, Minnesota, on Friday night where state officials limited the crowd to 250 people. “He believes that the pro-American voters have fewer rights than anti-American demonstrators.”

As part of that argument, Trump once again conflated Black Lives Matter demonstrations, which were largely peaceful across the country this year, with the far smaller number of protests that turned violent and have served as a helpful foil as he tries to argue that Biden would coddle criminals while fomenting what he described as “vile anti-police rhetoric.”

Speaking in Falcon Heights, a suburb of St. Paul, Biden refuted that argument by zeroing in on the difference between peaceful protesters and violent agitators who took advantage of this year’s movement for racial justice.

“Burning and looting is not protesting, it’s violence clear and simple — and will not be tolerated,” Biden said at his event, which he said was seven miles from where Floyd was killed by a police officer. “But these protests are a cry for justice.”

The former vice president argued that Trump’s divisive language about the protests and his effort to pit Americans “against one another based on race, gender, ethnicity and national origin” are part of an effort to distract from his handling of the pandemic.

During his final event of the day in Milwaukee, Biden noted that the state is now experiencing a record level of coronavirus hospitalizations.

“This week, Wisconsin, like other states, set a new record for daily cases. Hospitals are running short on beds, just had to open a field hospital. That’s what we’re facing. We’ve now hit 9 million cases,” Biden said Friday night. “Millions of people out of work; on the edge and they can’t see the light. They’re not sure how dark it’s going to remain … and the thing that bothers me the most was a President who gave up.”

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Donald Trump’s last push for reelection is being overshadowed by White House admission on pandemic


“We are not going to control the pandemic,” Meadows told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” Sunday, arguing that “proper mitigation factors” like therapies and vaccines should be the priority.

The window into the administration’s thinking came as Trump spent the weekend constructing a giant confidence trick for voters, declaring the country was “rounding the corner beautifully” in the battle against Covid-19.

The latest signs that Trump is putting his political priorities ahead of his duty of care to the American people come as the President plans a frantic week of packed rallies that flout good social distancing practice.

View Trump and Biden head-to-head polling
But the weekend of grim health data and controversy means the climax of the campaign will be overshadowed by the pandemic — a tough reality for Trump since 60% of Americans in a recent CNN Poll disapproved of his crisis management. The President has all along downplayed the threat from the virus. He mocked mask wearing, turning the practice into a culture war issue, and pressured Republican governors to open their states before the virus was under control, helping to unleash a wave of infections in the Sun Belt during the summer. As a result, his handling of the pandemic is a central campaign issue, and his behavior in recent days signals there will be no change to the White House’s approach to the pandemic if he wins the election — no matter how bad the virus gets this winter.
The final week of the campaign opens with Trump trailing Biden in national popular vote polls by 9 or 10 points and by smaller margins in many of the states that will decide the election on November 3. If the polling is accurate, Trump does have a narrow path to reelection but will need to make good on his vow to massively expand his political base with new conservative voters, and he will have to almost run the table in competitive states.
How Biden has more paths than Trump to 270 electoral votes
Remarkably, more than 58 million Americans have cast early ballots, surpassing all early voting in the 2016 election, meaning that it will be more difficult for either candidate to shake up the dynamics of the race at the last minute. Biden appears to have more routes to the 270 electoral votes needed for victory, but Democrats are nervous after a late surge by Trump in 2016 carried him to a shock victory over Hillary Clinton.
“I’m one of those folks, or competitors, it’s not over till the bell rings. And I feel superstitious when I predict anything other than going to be a hard fight,” Biden said in an interview aired on CBS’ “60 Minutes” on Sunday when asked whether Trump could still defeat him. “We feel good about where we are. But, you know, I don’t underestimate how he plays.”

Meadows sends shock waves through Washington

The extent to which the White House has all but given up fighting the pandemic — for instance, public briefings by top government scientists have disappeared — was made clear by Meadows.

The issue with his comments is that a vaccine, even if it is approved by regulators in the coming months, is unlikely to be available to all Americans by well into next year. The kind of state-of-the-art treatments that helped Trump beat his case of Covid-19 are not yet available to the general public or the tens of thousands of Americans now getting infected every day. Public health officials like Dr. Robert Redfield, the head of the CDC, have said masks are one of the most powerful weapons to fight the virus.

Biden leapt on Meadows’ comments as he tries to make a case that Trump’s denial and downplaying of the greatest public health crisis in 100 years means he should be disqualified from serving a second term.

Fact check: Trump makes at least 16 false or misleading claims to '60 Minutes'

He said the White House chief of staff had “stunningly admitted this morning that the administration has given up on even trying to control this pandemic, that they’ve given up on their basic duty to protect the American people.

“This wasn’t a slip by Meadows, it was a candid acknowledgment of what President Trump’s strategy has clearly been from the beginning of this crisis: to wave the white flag of defeat and hope that by ignoring it, the virus would simply go away. It hasn’t, and it won’t.”

The President and Pence — the head of the coronavirus task force — have consistently refused to model the social distancing and mask wearing that is the most effective way to cut infections until treatments and vaccines arrive.

On Sunday for instance, the President mixed with supporters who were unmasked and closely huddled together, offering fist bumps and signing “Make America Great Again” hats.

That is exactly the wrong message the President should be sending given a new modeling study from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation that notes that in September only 49% of Americans reported that they “always” wear a mask in public. If that number was 95%, more than 100,000 lives could be saved from Covid-19 through February, according to the study.
In a new opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal on Sunday, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, warned that it might be time to consider a limited and temporary national mask mandate.

“Deaths are starting to rise again, and vaccines won’t be widely available until next year even in the best-case scenario. Everyone banding together to wear masks, for a limited time, will be the least costly way for society to weather a difficult winter,” Gottlieb wrote.

Pence an ‘essential worker’

Even as news broke of the multiple infections in the vice president’s office, the White House declared he was an “essential worker” — a designation normally reserved for first responders and front-line medical staff — and said he would go on with his campaign program.

Pence, who was wearing a mask, clapped and jogged up to his podium at an event in North Carolina Sunday, the latest attempt by Trump and his team to foster a false impression of normality as the crisis deepens every single day. He never brought up the infections among his inner circle, barely mentioning the virus at the rally.

But the virus is now rising in 35 states and is steady in 15. New infections rose past 80,000 cases on both Friday and Saturday, breaking previous single-day records. US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams cautioned Friday that hospitalizations are up in 75% of the jurisdictions across the country. Deaths will likely also soon start rising.

The utter disconnect between the fast worsening reality and the behavior of Trump and Pence prompted David Gergen, an adviser to presidents of both parties who was speaking on CNN, to condemn what he said was, “a President and a vice president putting their own peoples’ lives at risk to advance their own political good fortunes.”

Build your own road to 270 electoral votes with CNN’s interactive map
The comments by Meadows appeared to be in line with the philosophy of White House adviser Dr. Scott Atlas, who has the President’s ear and has infuriated government scientists on the White House coronavirus task force. Atlas has cast doubt on mask wearing and appears to favor an approach akin to herd immunity — letting the virus circulate freely in society to build resistance among citizens. Such an approach could cost hundreds of thousands more lives, according to William Haseltine, chair and president of ACCESS Health International.

Meadows’ statement also had troubling echoes for another expert.

“I hear a lot of herd immunity in that statement and that is horrifying,” Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a professor of Medicine at George Washington University, told CNN on Sunday.

“We can control the pandemic,” said Reiner, citing Washington, DC’s low incidence of the virus after earlier spikes and crediting mask wearing for the improved situation..

“What the chief of staff is saying is surrender. No, no, no, we get everyone to mask up — that is how we get the rates down.”

The responsibilities of leaders

The comments by Meadows caused awkward moments for several Republican senators, in town to advance the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to a final floor vote on Monday.

“We all have control, and we all have responsibility as leaders to set an example that consists of doing the right thing to stop the spread,” the second-ranking Senate Republican, John Thune of South Dakota, told reporters.

“There are certain elements of it that yes, we cannot control. It’s a virus. It’s very aggressive. It wants to infect a lot of people, but there are things about our own behavior that we can control.”

The other South Dakota senator, Mike Rounds, said the government should “definitely not” stop trying to control Covid-19. Indiana Republican Sen. Mike Braun advised throwing “the kitchen sink at getting the virus under control.”

The new cases of Covid-19 in the White House could not be closer to Pence.

Marc Short, his chief of staff, tested positive on Saturday, the vice president’s office announced in a statement late in the day. Sources told CNN that Marty Obst, a senior adviser to Pence who is not a government employee, and at least three staffers in Pence’s office also tested positive for the virus in recent days. Zach Bauer, a longtime aide and one of the staffers who works closest with Pence, has tested positive for coronavirus, CNN learned Sunday.

New fears about coronavirus at the White House will not stop Trump swearing in Barrett after her expected Senate confirmation on Monday — despite the fact that her Rose Garden announcement ceremony last month turned into what the government’s top infectious disease specialist Dr. Anthony Fauci called a “superspreader” event.

The event is due to take place at 9 p.m. ET, outside, a source familiar with the invitation told CNN.

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2020 election: Trump lashes out wildly as he seeks an election comeback


But Trump’s quest for distractions simply underscored how he is ignoring the true and most dangerous adversary facing America — the pandemic that has buckled his false reelection narrative of a nation on the rebound and has left millions out of work. His frantic efforts to save his presidency lacked the focus of his populist, nationalist economic arguments in 2016 — and an opponent in Hillary Clinton, who he was conveniently able to cast as a villain for his outsider message.

Trump, in the middle of a grueling set of rallies after recovering from the virus, traveled to Erie, where he needs to outperform his strong 2016 showing to cut Biden’s current lead in Pennsylvania, potentially the pivotal 2020 swing state.

“You guys aren’t even open yet. What the hell is going on with your state?” Trump said at the rally, accusing Pennsylvania’s Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf of keeping the commonwealth shut down for no reason. After reducing its case and death numbers from its initial bout with the virus early in the year, Pennsylvania is now seeing its cases of Covid-19 rise again, all across the state.

The pandemic’s haunting presence in the final days of the campaign was underscored when first lady Melania Trump was forced to cancel her own plans to attend the rally, owing to the aftereffects of her Covid-19 infection.
And while Trump slams his opponent as soft on China, the latest New York Times report on his own tax records reveals that the President has extensive interests in the country and even maintains a bank account there.

The Chinese account, the newspaper said, is controlled by Trump International Hotels Management and it paid $188,561 in taxes in the country from 2013 to 2015. Earlier Times disclosures have shown how the President has paid almost no US federal tax on his fortune for years. Trump insists he has paid millions to the Treasury.

Trump creates a scene during ’60 Minutes’ interview

Trump had spent the day performing antics that might appeal to his most loyal voters and provide fodder for conservative media but threaten to further alienate more moderate voters he needs to attract.

The President sat for a CBS “60 Minutes” interview — an age-old staple of campaigns — but sources said he walked out after 45 minutes and refused to complete a segment with Vice President Mike Pence. Soon afterward, Trump tweeted a gotcha photo of correspondent Stahl not wearing a mask in the White House.

A person familiar with the situation told CNN that the image from the tweet shows Stahl with her producers immediately after Trump had ended the interview, before she had gone back to get her personal belongings to put her mask back on. She had a mask on from the time she entered the White House and just before the interview began.

Trump abruptly ends '60 Minutes' interview before planned taping of joint appearance with Pence

Then, in another sign of frivolity, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany sent out a photo of herself handing Stahl a thick book that she said listed all the President’s achievements on health care. Later, Trump, in a show of presidential whining, tweeted that he might release the interview before Sunday’s air date to prove what a “FAKE and BIASED interview is all about.”

The spectacle of a White House ambushing a TV reporter would be extraordinary in normal times, but it shows a profound lack of seriousness in the middle of a domestic crisis that has killed more than 220,000 Americans and as experts say an alarming rise in Covid infections may be a week away.

Trump demands action from Barr

Earlier, in a phone call to Fox News, the President called on Barr to open a preelection probe into his false claims that the former vice president is guilty of corruption in Ukraine — the country that Trump tried to coerce into interfering in the election to damage Biden in an abuse of power that got him impeached.

“We’ve gotta get the attorney general to act. He’s gotta act. And he’s gotta act fast,” Trump said in the interview. “This is major corruption and this has to be known about before the election.”

The demand was the latest indication of how Trump has no compunction about using the powers of his office — meant to be reserved for the American national interest — to try to damage his political foes in full public view.

In the same interview, Trump took another shot at Fauci, the government’s top infectious diseases specialist, who is warning that a feared fall and winter spike of Covid-19 is already materializing. On Monday, an unchained Trump described the respected doctor as an “idiot” and a “disaster.”

He followed up Tuesday by tarnishing the apolitical reputation that Fauci has built in decades of service to six presidents.

“He’s a nice guy. The only thing I say is he’s a little bit, sometimes not a team player. But he is a Democrat and I think that he’s just fine,” Trump said.

Fauci is not registered with any political party.

Expert sees rapid escalation in Covid cases

Trump’s attacks on Fauci underscore his most intractable problem in his effort to finally settle on an attack that negatively defines Biden and could broaden the President’s appeal wider than the fervent support of his most faithful voters. Trump’s failure to properly manage the pandemic and his constant denial about its impact on American life means he is at a disadvantage on the issue that appears likely to define the election. Experts are now warning of a fast-worsening situation across almost the entire nation just at the moment the President wants to declare victory over the emergency.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration, is predicting a swift escalation of infections, which have recently raced back to average around 50,000 a day.

“It’s going to be a difficult fall and winter. I think we’re about two or three weeks behind Europe — so we’re about a week away from starting to enter a period where we’re going to see a rapid acceleration in cases,” Gottlieb told CNBC’s Shepard Smith on Monday.

After several days of criticizing NBC’s Kristen Welker, who will moderate Thursday’s debate in Nashville, Trump is now grumbling about the decision by the presidential debate commission to mute the mics for a portion of the encounter after his boorish interruptions in the first debate.

“These are not good people. This commission — a lot of funny things go on with them,” he said on Fox.

“I think the whole thing is crazy.”

A source close to Biden told CNN that the Democratic nominee is getting ready for Trump to “bully and deflect” onstage and is preparing for him to go after his family as well.

Throughout this campaign cycle, Trump has tried and failed to disqualify Biden from the presidency. The veteran Democrat has proven remarkably resilient, and Tuesday was another case study in why, as it showed all the ways that the President is limiting his own potential appeal.

Biden has a clear path to 270

Another riotous day at the White House unfolded with Trump, who is desperate not to be the first President since George H.W. Bush ousted after a single term, trailing Biden in enough swing states to cost him the election.

CNN Poll of Polls averages across 10 key battleground states suggest tight races heading into the final two weeks of the campaign in seven states and Biden ahead in the other three. Crucially, the averages suggest Biden holds a sizable lead in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, which could form a path for him to get to the magic number of 270 electoral votes.

In Pennsylvania, Biden averages 52% support to Trump’s 43% in polling conducted between September 20 and October 5. In both Wisconsin and Michigan, the averages show Biden with 51% and Trump with 43%.

Trump’s hopes in Pennsylvania took a further blow with Monday night’s Supreme Court decision that means mail-in ballots — mostly preferred by Democrats — can be counted in the Keystone State for up to three days after Election Day on November 3. He called the decision “ridiculous” and “very strange.”

Across multiple states, voters are not waiting until November 3 to make their choices. Early voting records are tumbling everywhere.

More than 675,000 absentee ballots have been returned in Ohio, nearly double the figure at the same point four years ago.

More than 2 million voters have already cast ballots in North Carolina, a state where Trump tried to raise doubts about the legitimacy of early voting.

More than 27% of registered voters have already cast their ballots in Texas, and New Hampshire has seen nearly double the number of absentee ballots returned in all of 2016.

It is not possible to deduce exactly which candidate may have the advantage in early voting. The eagerness of voters to make their choices does reflect strong support for democracy even in the most extreme circumstances. And it makes one thing clear: The election is beginning to be decided right now, and the capacity of either candidate to change its dynamics is increasingly limited.

Still, Trump is putting his hopes in the kind of late surge that helped him beat Clinton in 2016 and is scheduling a flurry of swing state rallies to try to build momentum, even though the events will put his supporters — and people they will later meet — at a higher risk of contracting Covid-19.

CNN’s MJ Lee and Rick Davis contributed to this story.

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Trump and Biden town halls: 5 takeaways


The problem with their town halls, which were drastically different in tone and substance: Americans could only pick one to watch.

Trump’s alternate reality

No hour has better illustrated the alternate reality in which Trump exists than Thursday’s 60-minute town hall.

Trump claimed the science is still out on wearing masks, despite the universal view of health experts — including within his own administration — that it can mitigate the spread of coronavirus.

He refused to say whether or not he believed Democrats were running a satanic pedophile ring, shrugging when pressed and saying only, “I have no idea.”

He claimed with no evidence that ballots with his name on them had been found in garbage cans.

And he would not affirm that a conspiratorial tweet he retweeted claiming Osama Bin Laden is still alive is false, saying, “People can decide for themselves.”

“I don’t get that,” moderator Savannah Guthrie said after that last equivocation. “You’re the President, not somebody’s crazy uncle.”

Contained within Trump’s regular venues of conservative television and Twitter, the upside-down world in which he exists sometimes loses its impact. But in front of everyday voters, his answers appeared wildly detached from any accepted version of reality. Voters deciding between Trump and Biden find themselves choosing less between two candidates than two entirely opposite planets.

Trump vs. Guthrie

Since leaving the hospital, Trump has been dialing into friendly outlets to recount his ordeal and trash Biden. Over the past week, he’s phoned Fox News or Fox Business five times, along with chats on Newsmax and Rush Limbaugh.

The warmth of a conservative safe space is where Trump has thrived for most of his presidency. When he emerged onto NBC’s set, things felt much colder.

A lawyer by training, Guthrie would not let up when Trump evaded questions about his coronavirus diagnosis, whether he was tested the day of the last debate, his stance on white supremacy, his views on QAnon or his view of mail-in voting.

Trump was conducting a town hall instead of a debate by choice; he pulled out of a second face-off with Biden when the Commission on Presidential Debates insisted it be virtual. But the result was 20 minutes of contentious live grilling with only himself in the spotlight — a rarity for a President who sticks mostly to a friends in conservative media.

Without a rival on the stage, Trump was alone in fielding the questions. And he had no opponent to pepper with his own attacks. Instead, Trump found himself on the defensive and increasingly angry — including scoffing at a question Guthrie asked by calling her “cute.”

It’s the type of performance some of Trump’s advisers had hoped to avoid, recognizing it is that type of behavior that has turned off women voters and senior citizens. During one of the commercial breaks, Trump’s strategic communications director Alyssa Farah came out and spoke to Guthrie before joining other aides to speak with the President.

Trump appeared more moderated when answering questions from the town hall participants. But the ease of conducting four years of friendly interviews became clear when it came time for his final question: Why should voters give him a second term? Instead of laying out what he’d do differently, Trump listed only what he’d accomplished so far and concluded with: “Next year is going to be better than ever before.”

Biden’s policy-focused contrast

The contrast between the candidates’ approaches and their town halls’ topics was dramatic — especially when confronted with controversial remarks they’d made in the past.

One clear window into Biden’s tactics in a town-hall setting, with voters pressing him one-on-one, came when a young Black man recalled the former vice president’s flip comment to radio host Charlamagne tha God that if someone was struggling to decide between supporting him and Trump, “you ain’t Black.”

“Besides ‘you ain’t Black,” the man asked, how could Biden convince Black voters to take part “in a system that has failed to protect them?”

Instead of addressing his controversial remark, Biden delved into a several-minutes-long litany of policy specifics aimed at helping Black people. On his list: Tripling Title I funding for low-income schools; helping first-time homebuyers with a $15,000 credit for downpayments so that low-income families can begin to build wealth; $70 billion in new funding for historically Black colleges and universities; and government-backed loans for young Black entrepreneurs.

Asked if he’d heard enough, the young man responded, “Uh, I think so.” Then Biden offered to continue their conversation after the town hall ended.

It was one of a number of long-winded answers from Biden on Thursday night, and underscored Biden’s style and his efforts to use the town hall to focus on how his plans would affect ordinary Americans. It’s the implicit contrast Biden has long sought to offer voters: Sobriety in the face of Trump’s bombast, and a connection to the concerns of low- and middle-income Americans who he says have been ignored by Trump.

Trump campaign senior adviser Mercedes Schlapp tweeted during Biden’s town hall that watching it “feels like I am watching an episode of Mister Rodgers Neighborhood.” That was exactly the tone Biden was aiming for.

Biden’s position on court-packing ‘depends’

Biden didn’t clarify his position Thursday night on the push by some progressives to add seats to the Supreme Court — but he said he would do so before the election.

Pressed on an issue he has largely ducked since Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett to fill the seat of the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Biden said he is “not a fan” of court-packing, but whether he ultimately changes his mind “depends on how this turns out” and “if there’s actually real, live debate on the floor” of the Senate about Barrett’s confirmation.

If that does not take place and Republicans rush to confirm Barrett before the election, he said, “I’m open to considering what happens from that point on.”

Biden said he would take a clearer position on court-packing before the election, after seeing how the confirmation process plays out.

But he also said he was hesitant to take a specific position at this stage because he wants attention to focus on what confirming Barrett and handing conservatives a 6-3 Supreme Court majority would mean for abortion rights, health care, LGBTQ rights and more.

“If I answer the question directly, then all the focus will be on, what’s Biden going to do if he wins, instead of if it is appropriate what is going on now,” Biden said. “This is a thing the President loves to do, which is always take our eye off the ball.”

Some coronavirus clarity

Ever since Trump entered Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, two of the persistent unanswered questions about his diagnosis have been what his lung imaging showed and whether he tested negative ahead of the first presidential debate.

His physician, Dr. Sean Conley, repeatedly refused to say when pressed directly, saying it was a matter of patient confidentiality. Trump’s other aides have shrugged off the testing question, claiming they didn’t want to look backwards.

Pressed Thursday on the same issues, Trump was similarly evasive. But his non-answers were telling.

Asked directly if he was diagnosed with pneumonia, Trump said no — but acknowledged his lungs had been affected.

“They said the lungs are a little bit different, a little bit perhaps infected,” he said. It was the first acknowledgment, beyond revealing he’d required supplemental oxygen, that the President’s lungs had been impacted.

Trump claimed he “didn’t do too much asking” and that he “didn’t have much of a problem with the lungs,” but added that “obviously I felt there was something missing.”

Asked later when his last negative test was before his Covid diagnosis, Trump tried to avoid the question, saying he was tested very often. But he was pressed on if he tested negative on the day of the first presidential debate, to which he responded: “I don’t know, I don’t even remember.”

His answer affirmed what sources have told CNN: that the testing regimen long touted by the White House as their main coronavirus mitigation measure wasn’t nearly as extensive as they claimed.

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Trump chooses denial and recklessness as he’s set to resume campaign rallies


There was a chance for a strategic pivot by the President after he contracted Covid-19 that would have helped him shore up his flagging approval ratings on the handling of the virus. After learning a great deal about coronavirus, as he claimed during his stay at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, he could have chosen a path of responsibility by using his platform to educate the public about the risks of the virus at a time when US cases are surging and doctors fear that the nation is entering a second wave.

But nine days after he announced his coronavirus diagnosis — and hours before his physician said he is no longer considered “a transmission risk to others” but did not say he had tested negative — Trump chose his familiar tactics of denial, risk and ignorance. Two weeks after one super-spreader event in the White House Rose Garden, he held another on the South Lawn with no social distancing. This time, it was before an audience of Black and Latino Americans, groups who have been disproportionately harmed by the pandemic.

Rather than mitigating risk, Trump is planning at least three campaign rallies next week in Florida, Pennsylvania and Iowa, stating Saturday, “We are starting very, very big with our rallies and with our everything” as he again threw caution to the wind.

In his speech from the White House balcony and during his interviews with right wing outlets like the Rush Limbaugh radio show on Friday, he embraced the only political strategy he knows — playing to his base, rather than attempting to broaden his appeal, as his campaign spirals toward Election Day. He still appears either unwilling or unable to see the huge drag that the public’s lack of confidence in his handling of the pandemic is having on his election prospects.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released this week showed only 37% of Americans approved of Trump’s handling of the pandemic, while 59% disapproved. And the Pew Research Center found that Biden had a 17-point advantage over Trump when registered voters were asked who could better handle the public health impact of the coronavirus outbreak.
View Trump and Biden head-to-head polling

The President continued downplaying Covid-19 on Saturday, referring to it with his racist language as the “China virus” and claiming the US will “defeat it,” a day after he falsely claimed the experimental monoclonal antibody cocktail that he received from Regeneron was “a cure.”

“Science, medicine will eradicate the ‘China virus’ once and for all,” Trump said Saturday, noting flare-ups in Europe and Canada, but not mentioning the rising number of cases in the United States. “A lot of flareups, but it’s going to disappear, it is disappearing and vaccines are going to help.”

Trump’s physician, Navy Cmdr. Dr. Sean Conley, said in a memo about the President’s health Saturday evening that he is “now at day 10 from symptom onset, fever-free for well over 24 hours and all symptoms improved.”

“The assortment of advanced diagnostic tests obtained reveal there is no longer evidence of actively replicating virus,” Conley said, but he did not explain what “advanced diagnostic tests” the President received. And the White House still will not say when Trump last tested negative before he announced his positive diagnosis early on October 2, which is important context for knowing when he was contagious.

Conley has in the past seemed willing to bend to the political desires of a President eager not to appear ill and to quickly return to the trail. This latest White House memo, coming just ahead of his planned rallies, continues to be opaque with the medical details about Trump’s condition, leaving many questions about Trump’s current condition unanswered.

Supporters cheer as President Donald Trump makes remarks on law and order on the South Lawn of the White House on Saturday, where there was little social distancing. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

Alarming US coronavirus trends

While the White House says the President’s health is improving, doctors and public health officials are alarmed by the recent rise in Covid-19 cases, a trend that could accelerate as more Americans move indoors and the weather grows colder.

The latest forecast from the influential coronavirus model from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington School of Medicine projects that there could be nearly 395,000 US coronavirus deaths by February 1, 2021. More than 214,000 Americans have already died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

“We are all seeing increasing numbers of Covid-19 patients who are coming into our ERs, who are getting really sick, requiring hospitalization and even intensive care,” Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency physician with Brown Emergency Medicine, told CNN’s Erica Hill on “Newsroom” Saturday. “We are all deeply afraid that this is the beginning of that dreaded second wave.”

When asked Saturday whether Trump should be resuming campaign rallies, Democratic nominee Joe Biden said the President should make “clear he is not a spreader, like Dr. (Anthony) Fauci said,” referring to a recent statement from the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases that Trump’s Rose Garden ceremony for Amy Coney Barrett, his Supreme Court nominee, was clearly a “super spreader.”

“Secondly, I think it’s important that he makes it clear to all the people they should be socially distanced,” Biden said on the tarmac in Delaware as he headed to a campaign event in Erie, Pennsylvania. “They should be on the lawn, that’s fine, but in fact, they should be socially distanced and wearing masks — that’s the only responsible thing to do.”

More deadlock on stimulus negotiations

As Trump heads back out on the campaign trail, attention in the Capitol this week will shift to the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Barrett, who would solidify a 6-3 conservative majority on the court, and whether there is any hope of Congress reaching a deal on stimulus negotiations to help the millions of Americans who are struggling financially due to the pandemic.

Shortly after leaving the hospital last week, Trump tweeted that he was halting negotiations on another coronavirus stimulus package. He then abruptly reversed course — leading his administration to present a $1.8 trillion offer to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“I would like to see a bigger stimulus package frankly than either the Democrats or Republicans are offering,” Trump said during his appearance on Limbaugh’s show after signing off on the $1.8 trillion proposal.

In a memo to her Democratic colleagues Saturday, Pelosi said the new proposal amounted to “one step forward, two steps back,” claiming that when the President talks about wanting a bigger relief package “his proposal appears to mean that he wants more money at his discretion to grant or withhold, rather than agreeing on language prescribing how we honor our workers, crush the virus and put money in the pockets of workers.”

She said the funding in the proposal for state and local governments, who are struggling with huge coronavirus-related costs, “remains sadly inadequate,” and cited other disagreements like Democrats’ desire for stronger OSHA protections for workers and Republican demands for liability provisions to protect businesses.

CNN’s Manu Raju and Phil Mattingly reported Saturday that some 20 GOP senators spoke up in opposition to the size of the Trump administration’s $1.8 trillion offer during a call with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. The package has virtually no chance of passing the Senate.

But not all Democrats were pleased with Pelosi’s decision to balk at the latest White House offer. Former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang argued that another infusion of direct relief for unemployed workers is an overdue “lifeline for millions of Americans.”

“It’s infuriating that it’s October and so many Americans are still waiting on a relief bill that should have been passed months ago. If I’m Nancy Pelosi, I take this deal. If I’m Mitch McConnell, I take this deal,” Yang told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Saturday on “The Situation Room.”

“I have no idea why this is not being passed. Instead, they’re grandstanding and playing politics while people are hurting,” Yang said. “So again, Nancy Pelosi and Congress please, I know you don’t love President Trump, but the American people need relief. And this is a good deal for millions of Americans.”

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Trump’s latest punt on White supremacy shows a debate rebound will be tough



“I can only say they have to stand down, let law enforcement do their work,” the President told reporters, before pivoting again by saying “the problem is on the left.”

His comments on the Proud Boys display how his instinct when cornered is to fight back harder, intensify personal attacks and aim the punches farther below the belt. Such an approach worked well in 2016, when he was an outsider who appreciated the potential for a populist, insurgent campaign when no one else did.

It is far from clear that an antagonistic approach is a good fit for 2020, when Trump is an incumbent President and the country is locked in multiple crises. Those aggressive reflexes are one reason why the President’s handling of the pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 people has been so poor. And they mean that any advice from Trump’s aides to torque back his demeanor ahead of the next debate in Miami on October 15 will either fall on deaf ears or be ignored in the heat of battle.

The next encounter also brings the added risk of a President not used to being challenged exploding at a member of the public in a town hall format on live TV.

Despite publicly showering him with praise on Wednesday, some Trump aides secretly are deeply dismayed over the showdown with Biden. One ally described the debate, in which Trump boiled with fury, constantly heckled Biden and spouted lies and conspiracy theories, as a “disaster.”
Other people in the President’s orbit who spoke to CNN’s White House team described Trump as obnoxious and unprepared. One source familiar with the President’s thinking told CNN’s Dana Bash that Trump thought he had done well in the debate and was surprised that his team thought he was too aggressive. It may take several days of cable news coverage for the reality to sink in, the source said.

Republican senators, suffering through one of hundreds of awkward on-the-spot moments of the Trump presidency, were particularly discomforted by questions about the President’s “stand back and stand by” order to the Proud Boys. Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-South Dakota, suggested it was a statement the Trump team needed to “clear up.”

Even Donald Trump Jr. allowed on CBS News that his father’s comment at the debate could have been a “misspeak.” But the Proud Boys were in no doubt about where Trump stands, turning his comment into a new online logo.

Massive stakes for 2nd debate

The overwhelming consensus that Trump bombed in his first debate means the stakes for the second one are now even more astronomical than they were on Tuesday night. He will need a game-changer moment, with only three weeks left in the campaign. But he might have already missed his best chance.

Typically, the first debate garners the biggest TV audience. Further, by mid-October, millions more voters will have cast early ballots, and if current trends hold, a building new wave of Covid-19 infections will be having a demonstrably more serious impact on American life. Such a scenario will underscore the President’s failure on Tuesday night to offer any authentic plans to conquer the pandemic and may deepen his vulnerability on health care, which offered Biden a clear opening.

Debates are not always an accurate measure of who wins presidential elections. Democratic nominees John Kerry and Hillary Clinton were generally judged to have won their debates but they lost the elections. Trump’s destructive behavior likely appealed to those voters who prize him as a slayer of Washington elites and scourge of political correctness.

But if the misgivings inside his camp are on the button, the President probably did little in Cleveland to chip away at Biden’s advantage in most swing state polls. He might have even weakened his own position, as many voters saw in real time on their televisions the full extent of the boorish behavior that is familiar to Trump Cabinet members, foreign leaders and journalists who cover him.

If the President went into the evening needing to win back suburban voters and non-college-educated female voters, his tantrums and extreme rhetoric on race and refusals to guarantee ceding power, even if he loses the election, seem to have been guaranteed to secure exactly the opposite outcome.

Worse, from Trump’s point of view, his fury several times drowned out slips or uncertainty by Biden on the debate stage — including the former vice president’s inability to give a straight answer when asked whether he favored liberal demands for Supreme Court packing following Trump’s trio of picks to the nation’s top bench.

Compared with recent Democratic nominees, Biden wasn’t particularly impressive at the debate — albeit that he was trying to operate with constant haranguing from the man across the stage. But he didn’t have to be.

The President’s behavior meant that the sound bites from the debate being played on TV on Wednesday mostly referenced the President’s rage rather than Biden’s wobbly answers. Given that every day in the campaign is now crucial for a President who is behind, that was a small disaster in itself.

Biden was able to give the impression that he was the candidate with momentum heading out of the first clash, playing into what he saw as public distaste with the President’s performance.

“I kind of thought at one point, maybe I should’ve said this, but the President of the United States conducting himself the way he did — I think it was just a national embarrassment,” Biden told CNN’s Arlette Saenz on Wednesday.

Can Pence throw Trump a lifeline?

It’s going to be hard for the President’s political advisers to convince him that he has a problem. From the start of his presidency, Trump has existed in a bubble of praise from conservative news anchors and traded in the conspiracy theories that they amplify on shows he ravenously watches.

That helps to explain why the President came out with his normal rally punch lines in front of a far more diverse audience in the debate, mocking the use of masks, claiming he had saved millions of lives with his botched pandemic management and flinging unproven allegations about Biden’s son Hunter.

“I thought the debate last night was great. We got tremendous reviews on it,” the President told reporters on Wednesday. This may be typical Trump bravado. But it doesn’t suggest the kind of humility and the capacity for self-criticism that allowed Presidents Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama to bounce back from disastrous first debates in their own reelection races.

Trump has occasionally had teleprompter-driven moments in which he has behaved in a more statesmanlike manner. But such efforts have largely been confined to set-piece events like the State of the Union address. It is when the President gets off the teleprompter and his confrontational impulses are unrestrained — as in the debate situation on Tuesday — that he torches scripts and plans drawn up by aides.

The crucial point is that Trump doesn’t care. His actions show how he has long used the presidency as a channel for his personal grievances and to express how he feels, at any moment.

One possible opening for the Trump campaign is to use next week’s vice presidential debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris to steady the campaign — much as then-Vice President Biden did in 2012, when Obama messed up his first debate against Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

Pence, a smooth debater, is likely to make a far more conventional case for Trump’s second term than the President himself managed. Pence will detail what the administration sees as its main achievements: a conservative Supreme Court majority, multiple judges installed on lower benches, trade deals with Mexico and Canada, a reordering of US foreign policy and an economy that was prospering until the pandemic hit earlier this year.

The vice president will probably avoid unseemly personal attacks on Harris but will attempt to forensically exploit her liberal voting record to portray their ticket as the “Trojan horse” for the left that Trump believes it to be. The California Democrat is unlikely to be aiming her jabs at Pence and is expected to bring the inquisitorial skills that made her a renowned prosecutor to bear against the President himself.

But Trump being Trump, there is no guarantee he will listen to what worked for Pence. And if the vice president gets a torrent of media praise for his performance he is more likely to be jealous than appreciative. It was only when Pence was winning good reviews for his chairing of coronavirus task force news conferences that Trump decided to take the stage, muddled the administration message and came across as out-of-touch and inept.

If that’s the case, the President will go into his second debate with Biden under even more pressure than he faced in the first. He will need a Hail Mary moment to turn around the campaign with Election Day fast approaching. As Tuesday night shows, that’s not a scenario in which he seems to prosper.