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Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. It is Wednesday! We get you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch. Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver are the co-creators, and readers can find us on Twitter @asimendinger and @alweaver22. Please recommend the Morning Report to friends and let us know what you think. CLICK HERE to subscribe!
Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 209,725; Tuesday, 210,195; Wednesday, 210,909.
Coronavirus relief talks came to an abrupt halt on Tuesday when President TrumpDonald John TrumpDes Moines mayor says he’s worried about coronavirus spread at Trump rally Judiciary Committee Democrats pen second letter to DOJ over Barrett disclosures: ‘raises more questions that it answers’ Trump asks campaign to schedule daily events for him until election: report MORE announced that he was pulling out of stimulus bill discussions until after the election and accused Democrats of engaging in bad-faith negotiations. The president’s surprise move sent financial markets into a tailspin hours after the head of the nation’s central bank predicted the U.S. economy would weaken further without new stimulus from policymakers.
The president’s decision came in a series of tweets, saying that the White House made a “very generous” $1.6 trillion offer, which Democrats rejected in favor of a $2.2 trillion proposal that narrowly passed the House on Thursday. Hours later, Trump reversed his messaging, calling on Congress to immediately approve bills to provide loans to small businesses, support struggling airlines and provide another round of stimulus checks.
NBC News: Trump reverses course, dangles new $1,200 stimulus checks.
“As usual, (Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump slight against Gold Star families adds to military woes Pelosi calls Trump administration policies on testing and tracing inadequate Trump claims he is ‘immune’ from coronavirus, defends federal response MORE (D-Calif.)) is not negotiating in good faith. I am rejecting their request, and looking to the future of our Country,” Trump wrote in an initial tweet on Tuesday that scrambled ongoing negotiations. “I have instructed my representatives to stop negotiating until after the election when, immediately after I win, we will pass a major Stimulus Bill that focuses on hardworking Americans and Small Business.”
Trump pumped his executive brakes after more than a week of intensified negotiations between Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinPelosi calls Trump administration policies on testing and tracing inadequate Administration officials call on Congress to immediately pass bill to spend unused PPP funds Trump claims he is ‘immune’ from coronavirus, defends federal response MORE, which had been revived after breaking down in early August. Trump’s decision was especially striking as the White House had been far more gung-ho for a deal than Senate Republicans, going so far as to increase an offer last week to $1.3 trillion in an effort to find an accord.
In a statement, Pelosi labeled Trump’s decision “an act of desperation.” She also told House Democrats on a conference call on Tuesday that she wondered if doses of a steroid drug Trump received as part of his treatment for COVID-19 affected his decision-making (Politico).
“His irresponsible statement and policies have damaged lives, livelihoods and the life of our democracy, instead of crushing the virus, honoring our heroes — in health care, first responders, sanitation, transportation, food workers, teachers, teachers, teachers and others — and putting money in workers’ pockets,” Pelosi said in the statement. “Today, once again, President Trump showed his true colors: putting himself first at the expense of the country, with the full complicity of the GOP Members of Congress.”
The Hill: Trump orders aides to halt talks on COVID-19 relief.
The president’s decision on Tuesday also came hours after Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell repeated his calls for another round of stimulus during a speech to a conference of economists. He predicted that the U.S. recovery from COVID-19 would weaken without another round of relief for individuals and various industries, especially if confirmed cases continue to rise in the coming months, saying that “weakness feeds on weakness” (The Washington Post).
Reacting to the news of Trump’s about-face, the Dow Jones Industrial Average erased all gains Tuesday and dropped 375 points (1.34 percent) before trading ended. Trump’s tweet also included the claim that the stock market “is at record levels.” On Monday while hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, he told his supporters in a tweetstorm, “401(K). VOTE!”
However, Tuesday was filled with inconsistent messaging from Trump. Hours after halting negotiations, he fired off a trio of tweets indicating that he still wanted to pass immediate relief in some form. In one, he indicated support for Powell’s remarks earlier on Tuesday and called for Congress to pass standalone bills to fund the airlines, refill the Paycheck Protection Program and for another round of $1,200 direct checks to some Americans. The renewed interest in passing some form of relief was reflected on Wall Street as stock futures rose overnight (CNBC).
His decision to wait until after Nov. 3 also caught Republicans by surprise. While garnering the necessary support for another multi trillion dollar stimulus package among Senate Republicans has always been a tall order, despite the help for individuals and businesses hurt by the pandemic, many said they were surprised to see Trump scuttle the effort. Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsChamber-backed Democrats embrace endorsements in final stretch GOP sees falling Trump stock as growing threat to Senate majority Conservative group launches .3 million ad buy to boost Barrett SCOTUS nomination MORE (R-Maine) called the decision to wait until after the election a “huge mistake.” Other Republicans were less charitable.
“He must see a tactical advantage for reelection. Not sure what, though. … Bewildering,” One GOP aide told the Morning Report. “Republicans should keep negotiating anyway. Trump always changes his mind or threatens things. How many times has he threatened to veto something we passed, only not to?”
“Classic Trump. It’s like him announcing he’s not inviting a championship team to the (White House) after they’ve already indicated they won’t go,” the GOP aide added. “Parties weren’t even close here.”
CNBC: Trump’s “illogical” move to end stimulus talks baffles Wall Street and Washington.
The Philadelphia Inquirer: Hundreds of American Airlines flight attendants are losing jobs at Philadelphia International Airport.
Elsewhere, the White House continued to deal with its in-house outbreak as more staffers and those with connections to recent events tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
White House senior adviser Stephen MillerStephen MillerChristie released from the hospital after COVID-19 diagnosis Fauci: ‘We had a superspreader event in the White House’ Clinton says Trump’s COVID-19 not ‘comparable’ to her 2016 pneumonia MORE (pictured below on Sept. 30 with two other colleagues diagnosed with the virus) announced that he tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday, saying that he began self-isolating five days ago and had tested negative for the virus during that time.
The Hill: Fourth White House press aide tests positive for COVID-19.
CNBC: Trump reports no symptoms after first night back at the White House, doctor says in memo.
The Associated Press: Inside the White House, staff, Secret Service eye virus with fear, anger. Trump, still contagious, made clear he has little intention of abiding by best containment practices.
Almost the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff is also in quarantine following Coast Guard vice commandant Adm. Charles Ray’s positive coronavirus test after he experienced symptoms over the weekend. According to the Coast Guard, Ray was at the Pentagon on Friday. A senior defense official confirmed to The Hill that Ray met the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, and all but one of the other Joint Chiefs (The Hill).
Los Angeles Times: Trump struggles with coronavirus message in campaign’s final month.
Business Insider: Trump’s experimental treatment from Regeneron puts the company in a “very tough situation” as others request early access, CEO says.
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LEADING THE DAY
2020 POLITICS: During the 90-minute debate at 9 p.m. ET at the University of Utah between Vice President Pence and Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisNorth Dakota farmer goes viral for Biden-Harris message plowed into field Trump slight against Gold Star families adds to military woes The president’s actions are as dangerous as his words MORE, the spotlight tonight will be on the Democrat from California, who is juggling high expectations, The Hill’s Amie Parnes reports.
Among Harris’s challenges will be balancing a respectful demeanor on television with assertiveness as she shadow boxes with the VP who is the proxy for a presidential candidate ill with COVID-19 and chafing while in quarantine, says The Hill’s Max Greenwood among his list of things to watch.
The stakes of tonight’s debate are unusually high for a discussion between running mates, writes Niall Stanage in his Memo. Pence is next in line to a 74-year-old president who has downplayed a virus that has killed more than 210,000 Americans and infected the commander in chief. Harris was selected as a history-making running mate by a Democratic nominee who would be the oldest president ever inaugurated if he wins.
On Tuesday, Pence’s doctor released a letter arguing the vice president is not a COVID-19 transmission hazard while in Salt Lake City and “does not need to quarantine.” The vice president’s physician said Pence has tested negative for the coronavirus in two types of tests and has not been in recent contact with administration colleagues who tested positive for the virus.
The two campaigns disagreed on Tuesday about whether each should be surrounded by plexiglass as well as seated 12 feet apart as a precaution on the debate stage (The New York Times). Katie Miller, a spokeswoman for Pence, mocked Harris on Monday for asking for plexiglass. Miller, who previously contracted COVID-19 and recovered, is married to Trump adviser Stephen Miller, who tested positive for the contagion this week.
The Commission on Presidential Debates is weighing the idea of holding the Oct. 15 presidential debate scheduled in Miami and the Oct. 22 event in Nashville outdoors (The New York Times). On Tuesday, Biden said next week’s debate should be scratched if the president has the coronavirus (The Hill).
Trump tweeted on Tuesday while quarantined at the White House as potentially infectious that he plans to travel to debate former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump asks campaign to schedule daily events for him until election: report White House pushes to hold next week’s canceled debate Trump hoping to strike last-minute nuclear arms deal with Putin before election: report MORE next week (The Hill). The president has repeatedly downplayed the threat of the virus for others and for himself (The Hill). Although his handling of the coronavirus pandemic is unpopular with most Americans, his supporters have clearly echoed his assertion that COVID-19 is not a big deal (The Associated Press).
The Hill’s Reid Wilson reports that for months, Republican strategists have insisted the polling gap will close between the two nominees. But four weeks from Election Day, Republicans are starting to wonder if they were wrong — and that a Democratic tsunami is building. “If the bottom falls out on the president, it’s going to be a long night for everybody,” said House Deputy Minority Whip Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeThe Hill’s Morning Report – Sponsored by Facebook – Trump’s erratic tweets upend stimulus talks; COVID-19 spreads in White House Republican fears grow over rising Democratic tide Bottom line MORE (R-Okla.).
The Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman writes for The New York Times that
10 bellwether counties — five in Sun Belt battlegrounds, five in the Frost Belt (loosely defined to include Iowa) — may point toward each state’s winner, and these counties suggest Trump may be in trouble.
“They run the gamut from meatpacking hubs to white-collar office parks, and from peach orchards to yacht-dense retiree havens. But there is something they all have in common: Their votes will matter a lot. To win the White House, Mr. Biden will need to flip some combination of the 10 states Mr. Trump carried by less than 10 points in 2016 (in ascending order of margin): Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, Arizona, North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, Texas and Iowa. Mr. Biden has several paths to victory, and the first three states alone, in addition to every state won by Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden leads Trump by 6 points in Michigan and Nevada, race tied in Iowa: poll Trump trailing in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin: poll Older voters helped put Trump in office; they will help take him out MORE, would be enough to put him into the Oval Office,” he wrote.
The Hill: Biden during a Gettysburg, Pa., speech on Tuesday calls for unity, invokes Lincoln. “I do not believe we have to choose between law and order and racial justice in America,” he said. “We can have both.”
The Hill: A potential Biden administration would take aim at the Trump team’s rollbacks of many major environmental protections put in place by the Obama-Biden administration. Here’s a look at that approach.
> Early voting: Ballots are available in 35 states and voting begins in the swing states of Arizona, Iowa, New Hampshire and Ohio within the next week. (Biden and Harris plan to campaign in Arizona on Thursday, where Trump is trailing in the most recent polls, according to the RealClearPolitics average). … Milwaukee scrapped plans to use the Bucks’ and Brewers’ stadiums as early voting sites, citing fears the ballots could be legally challenged (The Associated Press).
> Maine Senate race: Collins is down 1 point against challenger Sara Gideon, according to a new Bangor Daily News-Digital Research poll released on Tuesday. The survey shows a narrower result than many previous polls as early absentee voting kicks off.
> North Carolina Senate race: Cal Cunningham (D), who is challenging Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisGraham dismisses calls to delay Barrett confirmation hearings Harris to take part in Barrett hearings remotely Coons: Barrett has ‘views that make her not qualified to serve on the Supreme Court’ MORE (R) in a contest critical to control of the Senate, is mired in a scandal involving a woman to whom he sent suggestive texts and with whom he had an intimate encounter in July. A married Army Reserve lieutenant colonel with a wholesome appeal, Cunningham was widely viewed as the kind of recruit Democrats needed to make inroads in conservative-leaning Southern states such as North Carolina (The Associated Press).
Republican political strategist and North Carolina native Doug Heye told the Morning Report that much depends on how Cunningham handles the mess. “Back to the bunker with barely a statement shows that he is not the great candidate we’ve all been told. He has to get in front of this and be seen by voters,” he said.
Tillis is in self-isolation after testing positive for COVID-19 after attending White House events Sept. 26 that may have spread the coronavirus to lawmakers, guests and Trump administration staff.
> Voter registration: Florida extended its deadline on Tuesday for voter registration when its computer system crashed (Politico).
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
MORE CONGRESS: Senate Democrats are carefully mapping their strategy for Monday when Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearings kick off as they seek to avoid landmines that backfired in the 2018 battle over Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughConservative group launches .3 million ad buy to boost Barrett SCOTUS nomination Cruz says he raised concerns with Trump over Gorsuch and Kavanaugh before nominations GOP vows quick confirmation of Trump’s Supreme Court pick amid coronavirus turmoil MORE’s nomination.
As The Hill’s Alexander Bolton writes, Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden says he’ll reveal position on court packing ‘when the election is over’ Pelosi asked if steroids influenced Trump’s decision on coronavirus relief Schumer and Statehood for Puerto Rico MORE (D-N.Y.) has urged the Senate Democratic Conference to avoid talking about the Supreme Court nominee’s religion, character or qualifications for the bench. Instead, he has asked them to focus on “health care, health care, health care” in the coming weeks, believing the continued chatter on the issue could pay dividends in key Senate contests ahead of Election Day.
“This is going to be a very different judicial nomination process than the last one. The last one was very heated,” one Democratic senator told The Hill on the strategy for next week’s confirmation hearing, referring to the dragged-out fight over Kavanaugh two years ago.
As part of the strategic planning, Schumer has met with Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, with those lawmakers discussing among themselves how to coordinate a different strategy to oppose Barrett.
The Hill: Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGraham dismisses calls to delay Barrett confirmation hearings Harris to take part in Barrett hearings remotely Sunday shows – Coronavirus stimulus, Barrett hearings share spotlight MORE (R-Texas) on confirming Trump’s Supreme Court nominee: “We have the votes.”
The New York Times: Big Tech was their enemy, until partisanship fractured the battle plans.
The Hill: Democrats sense momentum for expanding child tax credit.
The Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!
The rest of the world is taking advantage of a distracted America, by David Ignatius, columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/2Sy7PPc
Are hospitals ready for Covid’s second wave? By Lionel Laurent, columnist, Bloomberg Opinion. https://bloom.bg/3iBcRVx
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WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets at 10 a.m. on Friday.
The Senate holds a pro forma session on Friday at 10 a.m. The full chamber has recessed for legislative business until Oct. 19.
The president is recuperating at the White House with COVID-19. He has no public events scheduled.
The vice president participates in a televised debate with Harris in Salt Lake City at 9 p.m. ET.
Supreme Court: Today, Google, Oracle and Ford will press their cases before the justices in a pair of disputes that are expected to have broad impacts on American businesses and consumers. The justices will hear oral arguments by phone as the new term gets underway. Decisions are expected by the end of June (CNBC).
Biden-Harris campaign events: Biden will headline virtual fundraising events. Harris will debate Pence tonight in Utah at 9 p.m. ET.
Hill.TV’s “Rising” program features news and interviews at http://thehill.com/hilltv or on YouTube at 10:30 a.m. ET at Rising on YouTube.
➔ ECONOMY: The number of people who have joined the ranks of the long-term unemployed has spiked. The data points to a slow slog of a recovery, which could take years to reach pre-COVID levels (The Hill). … When the CARES Act relief bill was enacted last spring, the Paycheck Protection Program attracted applicants from companies of all sizes, eager to gain access to $525 billion in federal resources to stay afloat as the pandemic forced businesses to close. A Wall Street Journal analysis looking at Washington, D.C., found that 80 percent of PPP recipients in the city’s central business district received loans before the program ended Aug. 8, following quick approval. By comparison, just 38 percent of borrowers received loans approved in that first month in the areas east of the Anacostia River, where neighborhoods are known for small and Black-owned businesses, nonprofits and churches. The PPP disparity measured by zip codes was similar across the country, underscoring the speed with which larger companies tapped ongoing relationships with banks and lenders to be the first in line to get the federal cash.
➔ IMMIGRATION: According to a two-year inquiry by the Justice Department’s inspector general into Trump’s “zero tolerance” family migrant separation policy, driving the government’s actions were former Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsThe Hill’s Morning Report – Sponsored by Facebook – Trump’s erratic tweets upend stimulus talks; COVID-19 spreads in White House The Memo: Team Trump looks to Pence to steady ship in VP debate Watchdog finds top DOJ officials were ‘driving force’ behind Trump’s child separation policy: NYT MORE and former Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinEx-deputy attorney general says Justice Dept. ‘will ignore’ Trump’s threats against political rivals The Hill’s Morning Report – Sponsored by Facebook – Trump’s erratic tweets upend stimulus talks; COVID-19 spreads in White House Watchdog finds top DOJ officials were ‘driving force’ behind Trump’s child separation policy: NYT MORE. “We need to take away children,” Sessions told federal prosecutors in 2018. Rosenstein told prosecutors that children’s ages were not a legal considerations in prosecutions of adults and that infants could be separated in family units (The New York Times).
➔ TECH: Facebook on Tuesday banned QAnon accounts across its platforms, a decision of significant impact tied to its evolving enforcement policies to remove some accounts — not individual posts — tied to conspiracy theories and incitements of violence. The company believed it needed to limit the “ability of QAnon and Militarized Social Movements to operate and organize on our platform,” a spokesman said. QAnon is a conspiracy theory that the FBI views as a domestic terrorism threat (Yahoo News). It grew out of the fringes of the internet and posits that high-profile Democrats and Hollywood celebrities are members of a child-eating cabal that is being secretly taken down by Trump and that members of this fictitious cabal will soon be marched to their execution (NBC News).
➔ NOBEL PRIZE WEEK: The Nobel Prize for chemistry was handed out in Stockholm this morning to French scientist Emmanuelle Charpentier and American Jennifer A. Doudna for the development of a method for genome editing known as CRISPR, calling it “one of gene technology’s sharpest tools” (The Associated Press).
➔ CORONAVIRUS: The nation’s capital reported 105 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, the highest daily total for the city since early June. The district has averaged 40 new infections per day, according to the COVID Tracking Project. While White House tests are not counted among the district’s totals, the outbreak of infections among recent visitors to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. seems to have driven residents to get tested. At the city’s Judiciary Square testing locale, 600 coronavirus tests were conducted on Monday, an increase from the usual number of about 350 (The Hill). … Europe’s second wave of COVID-19 outbreaks is spilling over from the young to the old, the latest data shows (The Wall Street Journal). … In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom WolfTom WolfThe Hill’s Morning Report – Sponsored by Facebook – Trump’s erratic tweets upend stimulus talks; COVID-19 spreads in White House The Hill’s Morning Report – Sponsored by Facebook – Trump claims health improving amid transparency criticism Toomey will not run for reelection, governor in 2022: sources MORE (D) announced on Tuesday that outdoor sporting events can now have 15 percent capacity, opening the door for NFL and college football games in the state to host fans. However, the decision is up to local municipalities. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney (D) said on Tuesday that a possible decision will be reviewed next week (NBC Sports Philadelphia).
And finally … It should surprise no one that in a year in which Americans are shopping, but not in brick-and-mortar stores because of COVID-19, merchants want to do everything possible to maximize what is expected to be an anemic season of holiday sales during an economic annus horribilis. They want to help buyers beat the online rush, avert potential delivery service delays and dodge any supply chain problems. It means, in a word, HallowHanukMas.
Stores such as Best Buy, Macy’s and Target are starting their biggest Black Friday deals in October instead of November so people don’t crowd retail locations later, creating a potentially dangerous situation during a pandemic.
“We’re preparing for a holiday season unlike any we’ve seen before,” Target CEO Brian Cornell told The Associated Press.