President Trump defended his attacks on presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s faith during a news conference on Monday evening, saying that “a man of deep religion” would not agree with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on policy. The president also said Monday that his nomination acceptance speech, a week after the Democrats’ convention, will happen either at Gettysburg, Pa. — the site of the bloodiest battle of the Civil War — or the White House, an idea that has gotten some pushback from critics who argue that such a move would blur the lines between official and campaign activities.

Biden is expected to name his running mate this week, ahead of his nominating convention that starts Aug. 17, and pressure on him to pick a Black woman continues.

Here are some significant developments:
August 11, 2020 at 10:59 AM EDT

New Biden ad aimed at Florida seniors accuses Trump of putting Social Security at risk

Biden’s presidential campaign released a television ad Tuesday aimed at Florida seniors that features footage of President Trump golfing and accuses him of jeopardizing the Social Security benefits of millions of seniors living in the battleground state.

“Donald Trump stepped off the golf course and signed an executive action directing funding cuts for Social Security,” the ad’s narrator says over footage of Trump driving a golf cart and other scenes. “He also proposed slashing hundreds of billions of dollars from the Social Security Trust Fund every year — putting your hard-earned benefits in jeopardy. Nearly 4 million Florida seniors rely on Social Security, and once again Donald Trump’s failed leadership is hitting seniors the hardest.”

Trump signed executive actions Saturday that attempt to bypass Congress to provide economic relief to millions of Americans, including one that would allow some workers to postpone paying their Social Security payroll tax, which Democrats warn could weaken the program. In doing so, Trump promised that, if reelected, he will pursue a permanent cut to the payroll taxes that fund Social Security and Medicare.

The ad, titled “Swing,” will air exclusively in Florida, the Tampa Bay Times reported Tuesday, and comes as Biden has seen major gains with older voters. Trump won the votes of seniors nationally by eight points in 2016 but is trailing Biden in recent national polls. Seniors are an especially powerful voting group in Florida, and more than 20 percent of voters there in 2016 were over the age of 65. Trump won the Florida senior vote by a 17-point margin but is now trailing Biden in polls of Florida seniors.

By Jenna Johnson
August 10, 2020 at 7:25 PM EDT

Trump doubles down on attacks on Biden’s faith

President Trump defended his attacks on presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s faith during a news conference on Monday evening, saying that “a man of deep religion” would not agree with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on policy.

“If you look at their stance on religion and things having to do very importantly with aspects of religion and faith, I don’t think a man of deep religion would be agreeing with the Bernie Sanders plan. You take a look at what they have in it,” Trump said, alluding to policy positions put forth by task forces set up by Biden and Sanders earlier this year in an attempt to unify their party. “You can’t put that into the realm of a religious group of people, I will say that.”

During a campaign stop in Ohio last week, Trump said Biden wants to “take away your guns, destroy your Second Amendment, no religion, no anything. Hurt the Bible, hurt God. He’s against God, he’s against guns.”

Biden — who is Catholic and has leaned on his faith during personal tragedies — called Trump’s remarks “shameful” and “beneath the office he holds.”

“Like so many people, my faith has been the bedrock foundation of my life: It’s provided me comfort in moments of loss and tragedy, it’s kept me grounded and humbled in times of triumph and joy,” Biden responded.

By Jenna Johnson
August 10, 2020 at 7:20 PM EDT

Rapper Kanye West’s presidential campaign fights to get on the ballot in Wisconsin

Lawyers for Kanye West’s presidential campaign are fighting to get the rapper on the ballot in the key swing state of Wisconsin, arguing in filing to state election regulators late Monday that challenges to his candidacy are an effort by Democrats to silence his voice in the race.

West’s petition to join the ballot in Wisconsin was dropped off last week by Lane Ruhland, a lawyer who has served as general counsel of the state’s Republican Party and who represented the Trump campaign in court in July.

The Washington Post has reported that Republican operatives, some of whom have publicly backed Trump, have worked to get West on the ballot in at least five states, raising fears that the effort is intended to siphon votes from Biden and boost Trump’s chances.

In Wisconsin, where Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by fewer than 23,000 votes, West filed a petition with 2,422 signatures to get on the ballot as an independent candidate representing the Birthday Party. State law requires between 2,000 and 4,000 valid signatures. But two challenges were filed last week to the petition. They argued the petition should be disqualified because, among other things, it was filed just after the 5 p.m. deadline on Aug. 4. The challenges also included sworn affidavits from people who signed the West petition saying they had been misled about its purpose by people collecting signatures for the document.

In a 22-page response filed by Michael C. Curran, an attorney based in Spring Green, Wis., West’s campaign argued that under state law, nomination papers are presumed valid and argued that the challenges did not meet the state’s high bar for disqualification. In particular, the campaign argued that while some observers said West’s petition had been filed after 5 p.m., it was filed before 5:01 p.m. — still valid under state law. And they said the voters who said they were misled into signing might simply be experiencing “buyer’s remorse,” regretting their decision to sign only after they were “called and harassed by Democratic party operatives."

The response did not address the Republican involvement with West’s campaign. But it argued that the complaints against West’s petition were “funded by wealthy outside groups, including the Wisconsin Democratic Party and its allies, who fear the candidacy of Kanye West and seek to silence him.”

The document further alleged the effort to remove West from the ballot would marginalize people of color. The Wisconsin Elections Commission will consider the challenges and West’s response in the coming week and determine whether his name should appear on the ballot.

By Rosalind Helderman
August 10, 2020 at 6:10 PM EDT

Trump abruptly escorted out of press briefing, then returns

Trump abruptly left a news briefing at the White House on Monday evening at the instruction of Secret Service agents.

A few minutes into the briefing, an agent interrupted the president and asked him to “step out” of the room. After a brief conversation, Trump and his aides left the briefing room, as reporters called out for an explanation and did not receive one.

Fewer than 10 minutes later, Trump returned to the briefing room and told reporters that someone had been shot by law enforcement outside the White House fence and was being taken to the hospital. He said that he didn’t know any details about the person who was shot or the circumstances that led to the shooting. He said no one else was injured in the shooting.

“It might not have had anything to do with me, it might have been something else,” Trump said.

By Jenna Johnson and Anne Gearan
August 10, 2020 at 5:40 PM EDT

Trump campaign adviser comes under criticism after misgendering Pennsylvania secretary of health

Jenna Ellis, a senior legal adviser to the Trump campaign, is facing criticism after a transphobic tweet in which she misgendered Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania’s secretary of health, who is transgender.

“This guy is making decisions about your health,” Ellis said in the tweet, in which she linked to a news story from May about Levine pushing back against a reporter who had repeatedly called her “sir.”

The Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest LGBTQ rights advocacy organization, sharply criticized Ellis’s tweet, noting that “using a person’s pronouns is a basic level of respect.”

“Jenna Ellis is a bigot and Dr. Levine is a patriot — plain and simple,” HRC President Alphonso David said in a statement. “Dr. Levine illustrates character and patriotism while Ellis cannot even define those terms.”

David added that “despite claims of allyship, Donald Trump, Mike Pence and their staff have gone out of their way to dehumanize and attack transgender and non-binary people simply for existing.”

“Trump and his allies have refused to acknowledge the epidemic of violence transgender and gender non-conforming people face, attempted to strip away their access to health care, and blocked these patriotic Americans from openly serving in the military. … Our nation has and should continue to laud the frontline workers and public servants confronting this pandemic, not attack them simply for living their truth,” David said.

Ellis said in a statement that she would not apologize.

“To be called a bigot for simply acknowledging scientific fact is both hilarious and tragic,” she said. “The truth of biology shows that human beings are created immutably male and female. Yet in our post-truth society, the progressive leftists not only demand that we affirm patently false facts, but also demand we not ‘offend’ people who insist on speaking their lies, otherwise we are called insensitive bigots and required to apologize.”

Despite Ellis’s claim, medical professional organizations distinguish between the concept of “sex” — as in one’s biological sex assignment — and “gender identity,” which the American Psychological Association notes “may or may not correspond to a person’s sex assigned at birth.”

“Transgender is used as an adjective to refer to persons whose gender identity, expression, and/or role does not conform to what is culturally associated with their sex assigned at birth,” the APA states in its publication guidelines. It adds: “When writing about a known individual, use that person’s identified pronouns.”

Twitter’s rules against hateful conduct explicitly prohibit the targeted misgendering of transgender people. Several Twitter users responded to Ellis’s tweet Monday by reporting it as abusive and calling on others to do the same.

Levine is the highest-ranking transgender official in Pennsylvania and one of only a handful serving in elected or appointed offices nationwide.

Nate Wardle, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Health, dismissed Ellis’s tweet in a statement.

“Dr. Levine is laser-focused on assisting Pennsylvanians in the midst of a national pandemic,” Wardle said. “She does not have time for this nonsense.”

In remarks in Harrisburg last month, Levine denounced recent transphobic comments made against her, saying that “while these individuals may think they are only expressing their displeasure with me, they are in fact hurting the thousands of LGBTQ Pennsylvanians who suffer directly from these current demonstrations of harassment.”

The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Ellis’s tweet.

The Democratic National Convention, meanwhile, is expected to feature Virginia Del. Danica A. Roem (D-Prince William) among its speakers next week, Politico reported Friday. In 2018, Roem became the first state lawmaker in the country to be sworn in after campaigning as an openly transgender candidate.

By Felicia Sonmez
August 10, 2020 at 5:29 PM EDT

Analysis: The attorney general, Trump’s 2020 wingman

Former Obama administration attorney general Eric Holder’s criticisms of current Attorney General William P. Barr have been met with apoplexy by Trump’s supporters. Holder, after all, once dubbed himself Obama’s “wingman.” So how can he and other critics complain about Barr going out of his way to support Trump’s political agenda?

There’s a rather large — and growing — difference between the two situations, though. And that was on full display this weekend in an interview Barr gave to Fox News host Mark Levin.

Over the course of a lengthy discussion, Barr waded deeply into political matters far beyond regular Justice Department business. He attacked the president’s opponents — both real and perceived — and lodged the latest in a series of conspiracy theories about their true motivations.

Read more here.

By Aaron Blake
August 10, 2020 at 3:51 PM EDT

Sierra Club endorses Biden for president

The Sierra Club, one of the nation’s largest, oldest and most influential environmental organizations, is endorsing Joe Biden for president.

Michael Brune, the Oakland, Calif.-based group’s chief, said he is confident that the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee “will be the champion for climate justice that America needs in the White House."

The endorsement Monday was widely expected, but still shows the degree to which Biden has consolidated support among environmentalists once skeptical of his candidacy.

By Dino Grandoni
August 10, 2020 at 3:21 PM EDT

Trump campaign seeks to fundraise off president’s executive orders

Trump’s presidential campaign is seeking to raise money off the four executive orders the president signed Saturday aimed at providing additional economic relief to millions of Americans without the approval of Congress.

In a text message to supporters Sunday night, Trump’s campaign wrote, “Pres Trump: I signed 4 Exec Orders to help the American People. What did the Swamp do? NOTHING. Show them where YOU stand.”

That message was followed by another Monday afternoon.

“Pres Trump: I want to celebrate my four new Exec Orders,” the latest message reads. “For the NEXT HOUR: save $10 when you activate your Exec Membership. Donate & join NOW.”

Among other things, Trump’s executive orders call for a payroll tax deferral and instruct key officials to “consider” whether there should be a ban on evictions.

By Felicia Sonmez and Anne Gearan
August 10, 2020 at 2:43 PM EDT

Sen. Ron Johnson subpoenas FBI for records related to 2016 Russia probe

The Republican chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee announced Monday that he has issued a subpoena to the FBI for records related to the bureau’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The subpoena was the first issued by the committee as part of its examination of the origins of the FBI’s Russia investigation and Biden and Ukraine. Democrats have condemned the inquiry, saying it risks laundering Russian disinformation into the United States through the Senate ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

By Tom Hamburger
August 10, 2020 at 2:10 PM EDT

Trump says he will deliver acceptance speech at either White House or Gettysburg

Trump said Monday that he has narrowed his choice of venue for his acceptance speech to two places — the White House and Gettysburg — and “will announce the decision soon!”

“We have narrowed the Presidential Nomination Acceptance Speech, to be delivered on the final night of the Convention (Thursday), to two locations — The Great Battlefield of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and the White House, Washington, D.C.,” he said in a tweet.

Asked what message Trump might hope to deliver with a speech in Gettysburg, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany declined to say.

“I won’t get ahead of the president as to what his convention speech will look like,” McEnany said at a news briefing Monday. “The president has done a lot to bring this country together. We’ve faced unprecedented challenges. ... He has a strong record of achievement."

Earlier Monday, Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel defended the option of a White House speech. Critics have argued that the White House would be an inappropriate venue for a campaign speech. McDaniel said it was up to the president to decide.

If Trump chooses Gettysburg, it would not be the first time he has given a major address at the site of the bloodiest Civil War battle.

In 2016, Trump traveled to Gettysburg, where he declared that the system is rigged against him, that election results cannot be trusted, that Hillary Clinton should have been barred from running for president and that the media is “corrupt.” He also pledged to sue all of the women who have accused him of sexual assault, a threat on which he has yet to follow through.

By Felicia Sonmez
August 10, 2020 at 1:16 PM EDT

Dozens of prominent Black men urge Biden to pick a Black woman as running mate

More than 100 prominent Black men have signed a strongly worded letter to Biden, urging him to select a Black woman as his running mate and warning that not doing so will result in him losing the election.

“For too long Black women have been asked to do everything from rally the troops to risk their lives for the Democratic Party with no acknowledgment, no respect, no visibility, and certainly not enough support,” the letter states. “Failing to select a Black woman in 2020 means you will lose the election. We don’t want to choose between the lesser of two evils and we don’t want to vote the devil we know versus the devil we don’t because we are tired of voting for devils—period.”

The letter was made public Monday afternoon and is signed by rapper Sean “Diddy” Combs, radio show host Lenard “Charlamagne tha God” McKelvey, Bishop William J. Barber, civil rights attorney Ben Crump and dozens of others. It follows a letter signed by more than 700 “Concerned Black Women Leaders” who challenged the “relentless attacks on Black women and our leadership abilities” that have accompanied this search for a running mate.

Biden has blown past a self-set deadline of naming a running mate by the first week of August. The Black women he has considered include Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.); Reps. Val Demings (D-Fla.) and Karen Bass (D-Calif.); former ambassador Susan E. Rice; former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams; and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. All have faced sharp criticism and scrutiny in recent weeks that the letter writers say has been unfair.

The letter alludes to some Biden allies describing Harris as too ambitious for the position and questioning her loyalty to Biden. While several contenders have been pushed to explain their previous stances or comments, the letter questions why Biden hasn’t been pushed to do the same for his work on legislation that led to “mandatory minimum sentencing and subsequently crack-cocaine sentencing disparities.”

“Let’s be clear about the kind of remorse and reckoning that matters in 2020 when the Black community is still suffering the consequences for these oppressive measures,” the letter states. “So, Black women are the only ones required to stay in their place and to show remorse for even questioning their own oppression?”

By Jenna Johnson
August 10, 2020 at 11:48 AM EDT

New Lindsey Graham ad ties his Democratic challenger to Clinton, making no mention of Biden

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham’s (R-S.C.) reelection campaign has a new ad against his Democratic challenger, Jaime Harrison, that makes repeated mentions of 2016 presidential nominee Hillary Clinton — and zero mention of the party’s presumptive nominee, Joe Biden.

“Guess who got the first donation from Hillary Clinton this election cycle?” the ad’s narrator asks. “Liberal Jaime Harrison. Harrison was Hillary’s first-round draft choice. Why? Because she is Harrison’s mentor, just like Nancy Pelosi.”

The ad’s omission of any mention of Biden suggests that Republicans view the Democrats’ 2016 presidential nominee as more of a liability than their 2020 presumptive presidential opponent.

A Quinnipiac University poll in the past week showed Harrison, the former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, and Graham running neck-and-neck, with both candidates taking 44 percent among registered voters.

By Felicia Sonmez
August 10, 2020 at 11:03 AM EDT

Biden’s VP decision expected to come this week

Biden is expected to announce his running mate in the coming days, with the Democratic National Convention set to begin a week from today.

The former vice president has repeatedly told reporters that he plans to choose a woman to be his running mate. He’s also said that he’s vetting four Black women for the role, and those close to the campaign say the list includes Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.); former national security adviser Susan E. Rice; and Reps. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Val Demings (D-Fla.). Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) also confirmed last month that she’s been vetted.

Others believed to be in contention are Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who has become an informal economic policy adviser to Biden in recent months, and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, initially said he’d select his running mate by Aug. 1. Then, late last month, he told reporters that he intended to make up his mind by the end of the first week of August.

Making the announcement just a few days before the convention would allow Biden to build buzz for the party’s quadrennial meeting, with less time for the Trump campaign to define the vice presidential choice in negative terms. The running mate is slated to get a major speaking slot at the convention.

By Felicia Sonmez and Annie Linskey
August 10, 2020 at 9:53 AM EDT

Top Republican super PAC to spend additional $45 million on 2020 ads, ‘ballot chase’ program

The largest Republican super PAC focused on House races announced Monday that it will spend an additional $45 million this fall, including $6 million on a “ballot chase” program as an increasing number of Americans vote by mail during the coronavirus pandemic. That new spending is on top of the $43 million in ads the super PAC reserved earlier this year.

“The investments we’re making today are a second down payment in key races where we can make a real difference in the battle for the House,” Dan Conston, president of the Congressional Leadership Fund, said in a statement. “The hard work CLF put in from the outset has allowed us to keep Democrats where we want them: on defense. This reserve positions us well for the fall battle and it won’t be our last.”

The group, which has close ties to GOP leaders including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), is targeting races in 21 states with its latest buy. The ads will run on broadcast, cable and digital platforms. The super PAC is pursuing its ballot chase program even though Trump and other top Republicans have attacked voting by mail, claiming without evidence that it will lead to widespread fraud.

Democrats currently control 232 seats in the House, while Republicans control 198. There is one libertarian member, Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.), and four seats are vacant.

By Felicia Sonmez