The Daily 202: A dozen questions to gauge the political ramifications of Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis

This October surprise upends the presidential campaign with just over a month until Election Day. This will draw fresh attention to Trump’s public and private squabbles with a number of the medical experts in his administration over how seriously to take the virus. The diagnosis will also make it difficult for the president to deflect attention to other issues. But it is impossible at this moment to state anything with certitude. How exactly this development impacts the final 32 days of the race depends on the answers to these dozen questions:

1) How sick will the president get? 

An unnamed White House official told the Associated Press this morning that the president is experiencing “mild symptoms” but did not specify.

The president’s physician, Sean Conley, said in a statement that the Trumps “are both well at this time, and they plan to remain at home within the White House during their convalescence.”

“We are feeling good,” the first lady tweeted this morning.

Ronny Jackson, Trump’s former White House physician who is now running for Congress in Texas, called into Fox News overnight to claim, without appearing to have first-hand information, that the president is asymptomatic. “I will bet you that he does not develop symptoms, that he moves on and this does not become a big deal,” Jackson said, adding that the president will “weather this storm.”

“Covid-19 has proved particularly lethal for older people, especially those who are obese and have preëxisting conditions. Trump is seventy-four and overweight,” writes New Yorker editor David Remnick. “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, eight out of ten covid-19-related deaths in the United States have been of people sixty-five and older. Trump’s doctors say that he is generally healthy—though, on November 16, 2019, Trump was taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and Vice-President Mike Pence was reportedly placed on standby. The reasons for that hospital visit remain obscure. At one point, the President went out of his way to deny that he had suffered ‘mini-strokes.’”

2) Who else close to the president has the virus?

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel disclosed this morning, through her spokesman, that she tested positive a few days ago. McDaniel appeared Thursday on Fox News but did not mention her diagnosis. She was with last with Trump at a Sept. 25 fundraiser and has been at her home in Michigan since last Saturday. The RNC statement said McDaniel received confirmation on Wednesday afternoon that she was positive and that she had chosen to get tested after a member of her family had tested positive.

The president got tested after his senior aide Hope Hicks came down with the virus. “Hicks traveled with the president to Pennsylvania for a rally Saturday, to Cleveland for the first presidential debate Tuesday and to Minnesota for another campaign rally Wednesday. Hicks was around the president and top political advisers extensively in recent days preparing for the debate,” Josh Dawsey and Colby Itkowitz report. “She was photographed without a mask at the Pennsylvania rally clapping to the Village People’s ‘YMCA’ with other Trump aides and in Cleveland on the tarmac deplaning Air Force One. Her positive test came after she began showing symptoms at the Wednesday rally. A person familiar with the situation said Hicks was quarantined on the plane trip back from Minnesota. …

“After White House officials learned of Hicks’s symptoms, Trump and his entourage flew Thursday to New Jersey, where he attended a fundraiser at his golf club in Bedminster and delivered a speech. Trump was in close contact with dozens of other people, including campaign supporters, at a roundtable event. The president did not wear a mask Thursday, including at the events at his golf course and on the plane … Two people who spent time with him said he did not show noticeable symptoms although he seemed tired and acknowledged to other aides later Thursday that Hicks was ill. … Some aides are expected to stay at home for the foreseeable future … Some members of the Secret Service have also contracted the virus while preparing for presidential events, The Washington Post has reported.”

Vice President Pence and second lady Karen Pence both tested negative this morning, according to the White House.

In May, Pence spokeswoman Katie Miller caught the virus. In July, the president’s son Donald Trump Jr. tested positive and so did national security adviser Robert O’Brien. But the president continued to test negative at that time.

3) How transparent will the White House be about the president’s condition? 

The White House’s willingness to make demonstrably false statements has undermined its credibility going into a perilous period for the presidency. Moreover, there is a long history of White Houses downplaying the severity of presidential health problems, from President Ronald Reagan’s condition after he was shot in 1981 to President Franklin Roosevelt’s polio.

4) What kind of schedule will Trump keep while convalescing?

Even if he’s feeling fine, how long does the president stay inside the White House? Aides say Trump still plans to host a conference call on covid-19 support for vulnerable seniors at 12:15 p.m. from the residence. But a fundraiser at Trump’s hotel in Washington and a rally in Florida that were scheduled for later in the day were both scrapped.

5) Will Trump change his tone about the virus? If so, for how long? 

During a prerecorded speech that played at the Al Smith charity dinner in New York on Thursday night, just hours before he revealed his diagnosis, Trump exuded the same optimism that he has for months. “I just want to say that the end of the pandemic is in sight,” the president declared, “and next year will be one of the greatest years in the history of our country.”

6) How will Joe Biden adjust?

The Democratic presidential nominee is scheduled to hold two in-person events today in Grand Rapids, Mich. His running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), is scheduled to stump in Las Vegas. Neither trip has been canceled. Biden’s campaign has not answered questions about when he was last tested, but he tweeted this morning that he and his wife wish the first couple a swift recovery: “We will continue to pray for the health and safety of the president and his family,” Biden wrote.

Only hours before Trump tested positive, the Biden campaign announced plans to begin knocking on doors of prospective voters this weekend after saying for months that doing so was unsafe and unnecessary during the pandemic. But the Trump campaign’s advantage on in-person canvassing had made Democrats nervous. Republicans have said their canvassers have already knocked on 19 million doors. Will the Biden campaign still move forward with its door-knocking plans?

Biden is also on television with attack ads against Trump. If the president’s condition worsens, that could seem to be in poor taste. Will either campaign pull any of its commercials off the air?

7) Will there be more debates? 

The hot topic of conversation in politics yesterday was what changes might be made to the format for the second and third presidential debates to keep them more orderly than the first. Now the question is whether there will be any more in-person debates at all. The vice-presidential candidates are scheduled to debate next week in Salt Lake City.

8) Will Trump resume large-scale campaign rallies?

Trump really hoped to rev up his travel schedule in the final weeks. This throws a wrench in those plans. Already, he was under fire for going to Wisconsin on Saturday despite the state becoming a coronavirus hot spot. Wisconsin reported a record-high 2,887 new cases and 21 more deaths on Thursday. The number of people hospitalized with the virus has skyrocketed over the last week, and Gov. Tony Evers (D) has urged Wisconsinites to stay home, according to the Journal Sentinel.

At Tuesday’s debate, Trump defended having big rallies where no one is required to wear facial coverings or to socially distance. “We’ve had no negative effect,” the president said. Biden said that was “totally irresponsible” and his opponent is being foolish. Trump replied: “If you could get the crowds, you would have done the same thing. But you can’t. Nobody cares.” 

If Trump resumes rallies, it’s possible that some supporters who might have gone choose to stay away out of an abundance of caution. 

9) Will public sympathy lead to a bounce in the polls or are attitudes too hardened for that?

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson saw a bump in his approval rating this spring after he recovered from the coronavirus. The 56-year-old was treated on a ventilator in an intensive care unit. “His personal approval ratings skyrocketed from 44% in mid-March to 66% on April 13, immediately after he exited the ICU. But Johnson’s spike in approval coincided with the U.K.’s national lockdown, which enjoyed broad public support in the spring. Johnson’s approval ratings sank to 35% in late September amid accusations his government has mishandled the pandemic,” Time magazine reports. 

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, 65, also tested positive in July but had a very mild case. ““Bolsonaro’s approval ratings also rose a month after he contracted the virus, though this coincided with a push by his government to provide $47 billion of emergency aid money to vulnerable parts of society. Support for the Brazilian President hovered around 33% between April and June, according to Datafolha polling, but rose to 37% in August,” Time notes. “In both cases, the absence of detailed polling on the link between the leaders catching the virus and people’s support for them—not to mention all the other circumstances that impact people’s choices—means it’s impossible to say what effect catching the virus had on support for Johnson and Bolsonaro.”

Other heads of state have also been infected, including the leaders of Belarus, Bolivia, Honduras, Guatemala and Monaco. (The AP has a running list.)

There are other precedents worth studying, as well: President Woodrow Wilson got sick in 1918 amid the influenza pandemic.

“One of Biden’s front-row guests during the debate Tuesday night, whose father died of covid-19, was sharply critical of the president and his family for potentially putting others at risk in the debate hall,” Matt Viser reports. “Kristin Urquiza, co-founder of the group Marked by COVID, said that while everyone attending the debate had to test negative, they were also supposed to wear masks. ‘And though every one of Biden’s guests managed to do this, Trump’s guests were shockingly barefaced,’ she said in a statement. … ‘Irresponsible is an understatement: this is criminal.’ Urquiza was invited to the debate to represent her father, who died in June at age 65. … Urquiza said she is working to get tested as soon as possible, and would quarantine until she knew she wasn’t putting others at risk. ‘I am terrified,’ she said. ‘I know the darkest result of COVID: an undignified and lonesome death.’”

10) Does the president’s diagnosis cause businesses and schools to rethink reopening plans? 

The Labor Department announced Friday thatU.S. economy added just 661,000 jobs in September — the smallest monthly job gain since the recovery began in May, another signal that the labor market is cooling off. “In what will be the last monthly jobs report issued before the election on Nov. 3, the unemployment rate dropped to 7.9 percent, putting the rate closer to that of other recent recessions,” Eli Rosenberg reports. “The modest gains in jobs were driven by hiring increases in leisure and hospitality, which added 318,000 jobs back in September, mostly at restaurants and bars. … Government employment fell by 231,000 driven by declines in local and state education, a decline economists have been warning about for months. … There are still 10.7 million less people with jobs than there were in February before the pandemic, but now more than half of the jobs lost in March and April are now recovered.”

11) Will this cause Trump supporters who have been skeptical of the dangers of the virus to take it more seriously? 

“The virus doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, a Republican or a Democrat, young or old. No one is immune. Not even the president,” said Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), who has faced attacks from Trump for being overly cautious. “My sincere hope is that today’s news will serve as a wake-up call to every single American.”

12) To what extent do our adversaries seek to capitalize on the potential chaos? 

“There’s already an onslaught of misinformation about the diagnosis circulating on social media,” said former FBI special agent Clint Watts, a distinguished research fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. “It’s as if a nuclear information bomb exploded on social media,” he told Cat Zakrzewski for the Technology 202. “I would expect Russia to amplify, heavy, the uncertainty and play up disastrous scenarios. Or speculate about Biden.” Watt said that Russian media sources such as RT are already spreading speculation about Biden’s health. 

“Any time the president of the United States is at risk is an opportunity to foreign adversaries,” added Graham Brookie, the director and managing editor of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Lab. “It’s why the United States has contingency and continuity plans in place across the government before a crisis happens,” he told Cat. “Those continuity plans need to account for the low likelihood for things like military attacks but a near guarantee of foreign adversaries adjusting ongoing influence operations to the event.”

More on the coronavirus

France announces potential new restrictions as cases surge.

The full-blown second wave France is now experiencing has many restaurateurs worried they will not be able to survive a second shutdown, James McAuley reports from Paris. “For weeks, the country has relied on a regional system to implement restrictions in areas where transmission rates of the virus are high. On Thursday, Health Minister Olivier Véran said Paris could soon join the ‘maximum’ risk category, which would mean another complete shutdown of bars, restaurants and cafes. Some cities, notably Marseille, are already on the list. Paris so far has avoided further restrictions since a lockdown was lifted in mid-May. But Véran said that in the last 24 hours, the capital crossed multiple thresholds that make it a maximum-risk environment: The transmission rate has risen above 250 cases per 100,000, and the percentage of those who’ve tested positive for the novel coronavirus who require intensive care is now hovering between 30 and 35 percent.” Elected officials in Marseille, already under the stricter closures, criticized the French government for not involving them. “Yes, we’ve asphyxiated the city,” deputy mayor Samia Ghali told France’s BFM television.

  • Spain orders Madrid to lock down as cases soar. Residents will be banned from leaving the city, except on essential trips. But regional authorities said the national government’s decision has no legal basis, setting the stage for a political fight. (Sky News)
  • The pandemic has unleashed a wave of reverse migration, as hundreds of thousands of foreign workers, out of money and fearing the virus, return to their home countries. (Joanna Slater, Kareem Fahim and Katie McQue)

House Democrats pass a $2.2 trillion stimulus bill despite GOP opposition.

“The legislation, which passed 214 to 207, has no chance of advancing in the Republican-led Senate and is opposed by the White House,” Erica Werner and Jeff Stein report. “[But] with the House set to recess Friday through the election, Pelosi (D-Calif.) acceded to demands from moderate Democrats who wanted to take new action … before heading home to campaign for reelection. … Republicans railed against Pelosi for advancing a bill that has no chance of becoming law, accusing her of playing politics instead of trying to strike a bipartisan deal. And even though it was largely pressure from moderate Democrats, some in tough reelection races, that persuaded Pelosi to reverse course and put the bill on the floor, 18 mostly centrist Democrats voted ‘no.’ …

Behind the scenes Pelosi was, in fact, working to try to strike a bipartisan deal with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The two spent the day trading phone calls and offers, and although Pelosi said they remained far apart on some issues, the negotiations were continuing and appeared to be getting into some granular details, such as specific language on a coronavirus testing plan. … Even if they do manage to clinch a deal, however, the White House would still have to sell it to Senate Republicans, who have been highly skeptical of any legislation over $1 trillion. Mnuchin went into the talks with Pelosi with a $1.62 trillion offer … Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has sounded skeptical about a new deal, but in an interview on Fox News Channel late Thursday he said he would evaluate any agreement the House speaker and Treasury secretary come up with.” 

  • Food banks are removing the signed letter from Trump that the president pushed to include in every food-aid box. Anti-hunger advocates and food bank workers said the move violates the Hatch Act and compromises relationships with food-insecure Americans. (Laura Reiley and Kim Bellware)
  • Campus outbreaks have fueled tensions in college towns and cities across the country, from San Diego to Morgantown, W.Va., even though there is little evidence so far of spillover into local populations,” Karin Brulliard reports. “In some communities, local governments and schools have presented a united front, but increases in cases have stirred resentment among residents and triggered student-directed crackdowns by public health officials. In others, elected officials and university administrators have publicly traded blame and sparred over strategy.”
  • Children will likely not see a coronavirus vaccine until late 2021, health experts said. (ABC News)
  • Amazon said nearly 20,000 of its U.S. employees have caught the virus. This includes Whole Foods workers. “The retailer has faced harsh criticism this year as hundreds of workers and critics have said it hasn’t done enough to keep employees safe as they work in its warehouses amid a surge in demand to send items to shoppers across the country,” Rachel Lerman reports. (Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Post.)
  • The Smithsonian laid off 237 workers. “The layoffs are the first permanent staff cuts made by the world’s largest museum organization since it was forced to close its sites March 14. The Smithsonian lost $49 million — from store and restaurant revenue as well as canceled ticketed events, classes and tours — between March and September,” Peggy McGlone reports.
  • Maryland relaxed its nursing home visitation restrictions, as the state recorded no virus deaths in a single day for the first time since March. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) cited the increased availability of rapid tests. The new guidelines apply to facilities with no active cases over the previous two weeks. (Rachel Chason, Dana Hedpgeth and Lola Fadulu)
  • Halloween shops are seeing little demand for costumes. (Abha Bhattarai) 

Divided America

Trump amassed a red-state army in D.C. — and he could do it again. 

“The call that came into state capitals stunned governors and their National Guard commanders: The Pentagon wanted thousands of citizen soldiers airlifted to the nation’s capital immediately to help control crowds outside the White House in the wake of the death of George Floyd,” Aaron Davis reports. “Presidents have routinely activated Guard troops to fight foreign enemies, and in extraordinary circumstances have federalized them to quell civil unrest, using the vast power of the commander in chief. But the June 1 appeal to states was different. Trump was drawing instead on an obscure law … His action was not an order but a request … While red states jumped to answer the president’s call, governors and Guard commanders in blue states were incredulous. The result was a deployment to the nation’s capital that military historians say appears to have been without precedent: Over 98 percent of the 3,800 troops that arrived in the District came from states with Republican governors. … The same ability to mobilize National Guard troops from sympathetic states into Washington remains readily available today to Trump, who has repeatedly declined to commit to a peaceful transfer of power after the election.”

Border Patrol snipers were authorized to use deadly force at Floyd’s burial. 

“As a horse-drawn carriage took Floyd’s body to its final resting place in Pearland’s Houston Memorial Gardens cemetery, planning records show that at least six ‘sniper teams’ were in place on rooftops and authorized to open fire if the situation spiraled out of control,” Vice News reports. “The records, labeled highly confidential, also state that an FBI surveillance aircraft was flown over the burial, and that ‘overwatch units’ were sent to monitor the crowd for violent ‘agitators.’ Pearland officials also welcomed a large contingent of U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents to the city, including dozens of members of the immigration agency’s militarized tactical unit. Known as BORTAC, it’s equipped with military-grade firepower and commando-style uniforms, and deploys to conflict zones ‘around the world,’ according to the agency.”

A Russian operation masquerading as a right-wing news site is targeting American voters. 

The Internet Research Agency, the Russian troll farm accused of meddling in the 2016 election, posed as an independent news outlet to target right-wing social media users ahead of the election, Reuters reports. The pseudo media organization was called the Newsroom for American and European Based Citizens and was run by people associated with the IRA. “The website predominantly focused on U.S. politics and current events, republishing articles from conservative media and paying real Americans to write about politically-sensitive issues. A network of accounts posing as editors and journalists then promoted the articles on social media sites favored by right-wing users. Topics covered by NAEBC ranged from attacks on [Biden] to criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement and praise for Wisconsin shooter Kyle Rittenhouse.”

Quote of the day

Retired Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster (Ret.) said Trump is “aiding and abetting [Vladimir] Putin’s efforts” by failing to acknowledge how the Russian leader tried to manipulate American voters. “This sustained campaign of disruption, disinformation and denial is aided by any leader who doesn’t acknowledge it,” said the president’s former national security adviser. (MSNBC)

As QAnon grew, Facebook and Twitter missed years of warning signs about its violent nature. 

It wasn’t until this year that Facebook and Twitter began broad crackdowns against the conspiracy theory, Craig Timberg and Elizabeth Dwoskin report. They “waited until this past summer to close or limit the reach of more than 20,000 QAnon-connected accounts and pages after two years of QAnon-fueled threats of violence and numerous real-world crimes. By then, FBI officials, in an intelligence briefing, had warned that QAnon was becoming a potential domestic terrorism threat, and the U.S. Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center had warned that ‘QAnon represents a public security threat with the potential in the future to become a more impactful domestic terror threat.’ QAnon adherents made good use of the delay, using the power of those mainstream social media platforms to grow the movement into what many researchers consider the world’s largest and most virulent online conspiracy theory.”

The GAO will investigate claims of systemic racism within the Department of Veterans Affairs.

A survey of 1,500 union members who are VA employees concluded that nearly 80 percent of staffers said racism is a moderate or serious issue, with more than half reporting they had witnessed racism aimed at veterans, according to the American Federation of Government Employees. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) cited this to request the probe, which the taxpayer-funded watchdog has agreed to do. (Alex Horton)

  • Lawyers for the seven Rochester, N.Y., police officers suspended following the death of Daniel Prude, a Black man, questioned the autopsy’s results and said the tactics used on Prude were done in accordance with state-sanctioned training. (Shayna Jacobs)
  • A San Jose officer was charged after video showed him kicking a woman and dragging her across the pavement of a McDonald’s parking lot. (Lateshia Beachum)
  • A federal judge ruled that Bill Barr’s national commission on policing violates the law and ordered it to stop work because it seated only people in law enforcement and failed to include members with different perspectives such as civil rights activists, defense attorneys or mental-health professionals. “The commission also did not file a charter, post public notice of its meetings or open them to the public, so even though it has already sent its draft report and recommendations to Barr for release later this month, the judge prohibited Barr from publishing a final report,” Tom Jackman reports.

Trump cut the refugee cap to its lowest level ever. 

“The Trump administration has capped the number of refugees it will admit into the United States at 15,000 during the next year, a historic low that reflects the president’s increasing vilification of immigrants on the campaign trail,” Nick Miroff reports. “The 15,000 figure, the lowest since the 1980 Refugee Act took effect, is a drop from the 2020 cap that was set at 18,000. Since March, the number of refugees admitted to the United States fell sharply as the coronavirus outbreak slashed global travel. Fewer than 12,000 refugees have arrived in the past 12 months, statistics show. Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, called the 15,000 cap an ‘abdication’ of the nation’s humanitarian leadership role in the world. … ‘It’s no surprise that this all-time low comes during an election year,’ Vignarajah said. … Under previous Republican and Democratic administrations, the refugee cap typically exceeded 70,000 a year, and Biden has pledged to set the figure at 125,000 per year if elected.”

  • A federal judge in San Francisco blocked the Trump administration from enforcing a ban that would’ve blocked thousands of foreign workers on H-1B and other types of visas from entering the country. (WSJ)

More on the election

Melania Trump said in a secretly recorded conversation: “Who gives a f— about the Christmas stuff?” 

The first lady “was secretly recorded in the summer of 2018 expressing her frustration at being criticized for her husband’s policy of separating families who illegally crossed the southern border while at the same time needing to perform traditional first lady duties, such as preparing for Christmas,” CNN reports. “‘They say I’m complicit. I’m the same like him, I support him. I don’t say enough. I don’t do enough where I am,’ she said in a tape secretly recorded by Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former friend and senior adviser to the first lady … after she left the White House. ‘I’m working … my a** off on the Christmas stuff, that you know, who gives a f*** about the Christmas stuff and decorations? But I need to do it, right?’ She continued, ‘OK, and then I do it and I say that I’m working on Christmas and planning for the Christmas and they said, ‘Oh, what about the children that they were separated?’ Give me a f****** break. Where they were saying anything when Obama did that? I can not go, I was trying get the kid reunited with the mom. I didn’t have a chance — needs to go through the process and through the law.’ The policy Melania Trump was referring to was different from that of her husband. … Under former President Barack Obama, children were separated from parents only when authorities had concerns for their well-being.” 

Trump’s campaign finance chair Kim Guilfoyle left Fox News following accusations of sexual harassment. 

Guilfoyle, who is dating Trump’s son Don Jr., was a Fox News host until 2018, the same year a young woman who had been one of her assistants sent “company executives a confidential, forty-two-page draft complaint that accused Guilfoyle of repeated sexual harassment, and demanded monetary relief,” the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer reports. “The document, which resulted in a multimillion-dollar out-of-court settlement, raises serious questions about Guilfoyle’s fitness as a character witness for Trump, let alone as a top campaign official. … Guilfoyle has maintained that her decision to move from television news to a political campaign was entirely voluntary. In fact, Fox News forced her out in July, 2018 — several years before her contract’s expiration date. … Guilfoyle publicly denied any wrongdoing … The draft complaint, which was never filed in court, is covered by a nondisclosure agreement. … 

“The assistant alleged that Guilfoyle, her direct supervisor, subjected her frequently to degrading, abusive, and sexually inappropriate behavior; among other things, she said that she was frequently required to work at Guilfoyle’s New York apartment while the Fox host displayed herself naked, and was shown photographs of the genitalia of men with whom Guilfoyle had had sexual relations. The draft complaint also alleged that Guilfoyle spoke incessantly and luridly about her sex life, and on one occasion demanded a massage of her bare thighs; other times, she said, Guilfoyle told her to submit to a Fox employee’s demands for sexual favors, encouraged her to sleep with wealthy and powerful men, asked her to critique her naked body, demanded that she share a room with her on business trips, required her to sleep over at her apartment, and exposed herself to her, making her feel deeply uncomfortable. 

“As serious as the draft complaint’s sexual-harassment allegations were, equally disturbing was what the assistant described as a coverup attempt by Guilfoyle … According to those familiar with the assistant’s draft complaint, during a phone call on August 6, 2017, she alleged that Guilfoyle tried to buy her silence, offering to arrange a payment to her if she agreed to lie [to a team of outside lawyers hired to investigate sexual misconduct in the company]. … [The lawyers] begun investigating accusations of workplace sexual misconduct involving Eric Bolling, with whom Guilfoyle shared the assistant. … It was all but inevitable that if the assistant accused Bolling of sexual harassment — as in fact she did — Guilfoyle’s conduct would come under scrutiny next. … Guilfoyle told her that she needed to know what the assistant would say if she were asked about sexual harassment, and warned her that she could cause great damage if she said the wrong thing.” 

Mike Pompeo’s politicking is wearing down the patience of allies. 

“Foreign officials have accused him of trying to drag their governments into the election battle,” Foreign Policy reports. “The problem was clearly on display this week during Pompeo’s visit to the Vatican, where Pope Francis refused to meet with the secretary during his visit, with Vatican officials accusing the secretary of state of trying to drag the Holy See into the 2020 U.S. election by criticizing its relations with China. Rome isn’t the only place reeling from Pompeo’s unprecedented breach of the State Department tradition of steering well clear of politics. In Brazil, lawmakers are still trying to come to grips with the damage done by Pompeo’s September visit, ostensibly meant to shore up support for a common front against Venezuela … While in the Brazilian city of Boa Vista on Sept. 18 — home to 85,000 Venezuelans who have fled the regime of Nicolás Maduro — Pompeo railed against the embattled Venezuelan leader … But some Brazilian lawmakers and former top diplomats bristled at the hawkish overtones, accusing the secretary of state of fueling new tensions between Brazil and Venezuela and using the trip to garner more support among Latin American diasporas in the swing state of Florida.”

There are signs Trump’s ground operation is paying off when it comes to registering new voters in key states,” NBC News reports. “Of the six states Trump won by less than 5 points in 2016, four — Arizona, Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania — permit voters to register by party. In all four states, voter registration trends are more robust for the GOP than four years ago. In Florida, Republicans added a net 195,652 registered voters between this March’s presidential primary and the end of August, while Democrats added 98,362 … In Pennsylvania, Republicans added a net 135,619 voters between this June’s primary and the final week of September, while Democrats added 57,985.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issues an order to make it vastly harder to vote in urban areas.

Abbott “said each of the state’s counties could provide only one mail-in ballot drop-off location for the November election, a proclamation that quickly spurred criticism and a legal threat from Democrats and election officials,” Meryl Kornfield and Felicia Sonmez report. “The executive order, which amended a July 27 order by Abbott that expanded early voting and absentee ballot drop-offs, cites election security as the reason counties must close sites that were already collecting early ballots. … In several Texas counties that have a population of more than 1 million, the order would close several satellite sites. Harris County, which includes Houston and has more than 4.7 million residents, is the state’s largest county and the third largest in the United States … [It] has 12 ballot drop-off sites.” 

  • Right-wing operatives Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman were charged with intimidating voters, conspiring to violate election law and using a computer to commit a crime, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced, after thousands of residents from at least five states received a robocall aimed at discouraging absentee voting. Each charge against the pair carries a five- or seven-year sentence if they are convicted. (Kornfield)
  • The South Carolina GOP asked the Supreme Court to reinstate the witness signature requirement for mail-in ballots. The request comes after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit left in place an order blocking the requirement because of the risks associated with in-person voting during the pandemic. (Ann Marimow)
  • About 1,600 former Justice Department lawyers accused Barr of using the agency to help Trump win. “We fear that [Barr] intends to use the DOJ’s vast law enforcement powers to undermine our most fundamental democratic value: free and fair elections,” they write in an open letter. “Such a blatant politicization and abuse of federal law enforcement power risks immense and lasting harm to our democracy and to the integrity and reputation of the DOJ.” (USA Today)
  • Virginians will vote on a proposed amendment to create a bipartisan commission to draw political boundaries in hopes of ending partisan and racial gerrymandering. (Gregory Schneider)

Social media speed read

This was the scene at Pence’s rally last night:

Trump’s former U.N. ambassador continues to lay the groundwork to run for the GOP nomination in 2024. But neither she nor the Republican politicians she met with in New Hampshire yesterday wore masks:

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, warned in a 10-tweet thread that the Russians are trying to do something more audacious in 2020 than they did in 2016:

The first lady issued a public service announcement against substance abuse, even as her husband attacked Hunter Biden for his addiction struggles and her stepson, Donald Trump Jr., called him “Crackhead Hunter” during an appearance on the Glenn Beck Program:

And, in another illustration of how sloppy and inattentive to detail this White House has been, the press secretary falsely claimed that Trump’s Supreme Court nominee was a Rhodes Scholar:

Videos of the day

Stephen Colbert reviewed Republicans’ reactions to Trump’s debate performance: 

And Trevor Noah went through some of this week’s zaniest stories: 

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