Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield predicted Wednesday that most of the American public will not have access to a vaccine against the novel coronavirus until late spring or summer of next year. But hours later President Trump said he was wrong, adding confusion to when a vaccine will be widely available to the public.

“That’s incorrect information,” Trump said of Redfield’s assertion earlier in the day before Congress. He added: “When he said it, I believe he was confused.”

Meanwhile, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden accused Trump on Wednesday of politicizing the process of developing a coronavirus vaccine. Biden also called for any potential vaccine to be equitably distributed.

“I trust vaccines. I trust scientists. But I don’t trust Donald Trump, and at this point, the American people can’t, either,” Biden said in Wilmington, Del., after a meeting with public health experts.

With 48 days until Election Day …
September 16, 2020 at 7:27 PM EDT

Trump blames blue states for the coronavirus death toll — but most recent deaths have been in red states

For months, President Trump has been scrambling to deflect criticism for the breadth of the coronavirus pandemic toward whatever target might be available. During a news briefing Wednesday, he returned to one of his favorites: Democratic leaders.

He pointed to a graph that the White House first unveiled in the spring, showing two estimated ranges of possible death tolls depending on the extent of efforts to contain the virus’s spread.

“This was a prediction that if we do a really good job, we’ll be at about 100,000 and — 100,000 to 240,000 deaths, and we’re below that substantially, and we’ll see what comes out,” he said. “But that would be if we did a good job. If the not-so-good job was done, you’d be between 1.5 million — I remember these numbers so well — and 2.2 million. That’s quite a difference.”

For what it’s worth, we are not below 240,000 deaths substantially. Instead, the country has seen at least 193,000 deaths, a figure that is probably an underestimate.

But of course, Trump wanted to reinforce that this was not his fault.

“So we’re down in this territory,” Trump continued, “and that’s despite the fact that the blue states had had tremendous death rates. If you take the blue states out, we’re at a level that I don’t think anybody in the world would be at. We’re really at a very low level. But some of the states, they were blue states and blue state managed.”

It is true that the early surge in deaths was heavily weighted toward states that had voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. New York and New Jersey in particular saw hundreds of deaths a day in April, quickly contributing to the country’s total number of fatalities.

Over time, though, the percentage of total deaths that have occurred in blue states has dropped. The most recent data, through Tuesday, indicates that about 53 percent of deaths have occurred in blue states — meaning that 47 percent have occurred in red ones.

Read more here.

By Philip Bump
September 16, 2020 at 7:17 PM EDT

SNL names Jim Carrey to play Biden

When Saturday Night Live returns in early October, the Democratic candidate for president will have a new impersonator: Jim Carrey.

Carrey, who rose to stardom in the 1990s, will take over the role from SNL cast member Jason Sudeikis who played Biden during the Obama administration. During the Democratic primary, actor Woody Harrelson impersonated Biden.

Lorne Michaels, SNL’s producer, told Vulture in an interview that Carrey initiated the conversation about playing the part.

Carrey’s Biden will appear in skits with Alec Baldwin’s Trump and Maya Rudolph’s Kamala D. Harris as the variety show takes on the 2020 election for five Saturdays before the election beginning Oct. 3.

By Colby Itkowitz
September 16, 2020 at 7:15 PM EDT

Trump confirms one White House staffer recently tested positive for coronavirus

Trump on Wednesday confirmed that a White House staffer recently tested positive for the coronavirus, hours after his press secretary declined to tell reporters, arguing that the information is private.

“I heard about it this morning. At a very small level. … Last night I heard about it for the first time. And it’s a small number of cases. Maybe it’s not even cases," Trump told reporters when asked about reports of a positive case among the White House staff.

He then asked White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, who said, “It did not affect the event, and press was not around the individual." She added that it was “one person,” to which Trump responded, “It’s not anybody that was near me. … It was one person. Not a person that I was associated with.”

It was not immediately clear to which event McEnany was referring, but one of the activities on Trump’s schedule Tuesday was a signing ceremony of agreements establishing formal ties between Israel and two Arab states, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. About 800 people were in attendance at the event, according to the White House. Later that evening, Trump attended a town hall hosted by ABC News in Philadelphia.

At a media briefing earlier Wednesday, McEnany declined to say whether a staffer had tested positive. “I don’t share people’s personal medical information,” she said.

Raquel Krähenbühl, a White House correspondent for Brazil’s TV Globo, tweeted Wednesday morning that the White House was half an hour late in calling the press pool for its routine coronavirus tests. “I was told they were late because ‘It was a very busy morning. We had a couple of positives today,’” Krähenbühl tweeted.

In May, two White House staff members — Pence spokeswoman Katie Miller and a military valet to the president — were diagnosed with the coronavirus.

McEnany said Wednesday that she would not discuss the topic because last time, the name of one of the staffers who had tested positive had been “leaked” — even though Miller herself confirmed her diagnosis to NBC News, and Trump appeared to confirm Miller’s identity, telling reporters at the time, “She’s a wonderful young woman, Katie. She tested very good for a long period of time, and all of a sudden today she tested positive."

“I’ve seen the reporting out there, but again, I’m not here to give people’s personal identities,” McEnany said at Wednesday’s briefing. “In the past, when I’ve discussed a case, unfortunately, that individual’s name was leaked to the media.”

McEnany was also asked repeatedly about Trump’s comment during the town hall Tuesday evening that “there are a lot of people that think masks are not good,” a statement that appears to be at odds with the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

McEnany replied that Trump meant that “masks are not good when they are not used appropriately.”

By Felicia Sonmez
September 16, 2020 at 6:45 PM EDT

Trump claims U.S. coronavirus death rate would be low ‘if you take the blue states out’

Trump on Wednesday claimed that the United States would have a low covid-19 death rate if it weren’t for “blue states” with Democratic governors.

The president made the assertion during a news briefing where he defended his administration’s response to the pandemic. The country’s progress in battling the novel coronavirus, he said, comes “despite the fact that the blue states had had tremendous death rates.”

“If you take the blue states out, we’re at a level that I don’t think anybody in the world would be at," Trump said. “We’re really at a very low level.”

Of the 15 states with the highest covid-19 death tolls, eight have Democratic governors and seven have Republican governors.

At least 193,000 people in the United States have died of covid-19, and nearly 6.6 million cases have been reported in the country.

By Felicia Sonmez
September 16, 2020 at 5:59 PM EDT

Trump says CDC head made a ‘mistake’ on vaccine timeline

Trump contradicted Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on the timeline for distributing a coronavirus vaccine, saying Redfield misspoke when he said a vaccine wouldn’t be widely available until summer or fall 2021.

“No, I think he made a mistake when he said that,” Trump said when asked about Redfield’s comments. “It’s just incorrect information. And I called him, and he didn’t tell me that. And I think he got the message maybe confused.”

Trump said that the vaccine “could be announced in October” and that as soon as it is available it can be distributed “immediately” to the general public.

“To the general public immediately — when we go, we go. We’re not looking to say, gee, in six months we’ll start giving it to the general public. No, we want to go immediately,” he said. “No, it was an incorrect statement. I saw the statement. I called him and I said, ‘What did you mean by that?’ And I think he just made a mistake. He just made a mistake. I think he misunderstood the question probably.”

Asked to put a timeline on when every American will be able to get a vaccine, Trump said, “Very soon.”

Later, Trump contradicted Redfield again on the efficacy of mask-wearing. Earlier in the day, Redfield had said wearing a mask was more effective than a vaccine. Trump again said the CDC director was incorrect.

Trump said that he called Redfield about that comment as well and that if someone were to ask Redfield now he would “probably say he didn’t understood the question.”

No, vaccine is much more effective than the masks,” he said.

By Colby Itkowitz
September 16, 2020 at 4:45 PM EDT

Senate candidate in Delaware defends association with QAnon conspiracy theory

Lauren Witzke, a Republican activist who won the party’s nomination Tuesday to challenge Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), said she had shared the QAnon slogan on Twitter and worn a shirt with one of the conspiracy theory movement’s logos because she was honoring a friend who was a “close follower of Q” — and because of her concerns about child sex trafficking.

“From what I understand about QAnon, they’re just people who want pedophiles to be held accountable, and to stop sex trafficking of young children,” Witzke said in an interview Wednesday. “And I think that’s something we can all agree on.”

QAnon adherents believe Trump is battling a cabal of “deep state” saboteurs who worship Satan and traffic children for sex. The FBI has identified the movement as a potential domestic terrorist threat.

The QAnon conspiracy theory, which originated online three years ago, has gained more attention this year. A Pew Research Center survey released this week found that 47 percent of Americans had heard of the theory, up from just 23 percent in March. Seventy-four percent of those who were aware of the theory said it was “bad for the country,” and 20 percent said it was good for the country. The results were closer among Republicans, 41 percent of whom said the theory didn’t hurt the country and 50 percent of whom said it did.

Witzke, who defeated a Republican backed by the state GOP for the nomination, had previously distanced herself from aspects of QAnon. In January, she told the Associated Press that she had stopped promoting QAnon and considered it “more hype than substance.”

Questions about Witzke’s interest in the theory resurfaced after her win, with reporters sharing a pair of 2019 tweets from the candidate with the QAnon slogan “Where we go one, we go all” and an undated photo of Witzke wearing a shirt that read, “We are Q.” In the interview, Witzke said she was given the shirt by a friend who struggled with opioid addiction.

“My best friend was a close follower of Q,” Witzke said. “She bought me that T-shirt. She actually died during the covid-19 shutdowns, and she ended up relapsing. The bigger issue here is the opioid epidemic and the results of the shutdowns.”

In recent months, a number of Republicans who have expressed support for the QAnon theory have won primaries, often in safely Democratic districts. Witzke begins the general election as an underdog challenger to Coons, who won two previous races by double digits and easily defeated a left-wing primary opponent on Tuesday.

By David Weigel
September 16, 2020 at 4:44 PM EDT

‘I trust vaccines. I trust scientists. But I don’t trust Donald Trump,’ Biden says after pandemic briefing

In remarks in Wilmington, Del., on Wednesday afternoon after a meeting with public health experts, Biden said Americans should trust any coronavirus vaccine developed under the Trump administration only if the president gives “honest answers” to questions about its safety, effectiveness and equitable distribution.

“I trust vaccines. I trust scientists. But I don’t trust Donald Trump, and at this point, the American people can’t, either,” Biden said.

The Democratic presidential nominee said he is “more hopeful than ever in the power of science” to develop a vaccine. But he added, “Scientific breakthroughs don’t care about calendars any more than the virus does. They certainly don’t adhere to election cycles. And their timing, their approval and their distribution should never, ever be distorted by political considerations. They should be determined by science and safety alone.”

Biden also focused on Trump’s performance during an ABC News town hall on Tuesday night, accusing the president of “undercutting” the use of face masks to slow the spread of the virus and contending that his remarks revealed his “lack of seriousness” about the pandemic.

“We’re heading into a very dangerous autumn,” Biden said, citing models that show coronavirus cases spiking again in November.

And in response to Trump’s criticism that Biden hasn’t instituted a national mask mandate, the former vice president said with a laugh, “I’m not the president. He’s the president.”

Biden said his legal team is still uncertain whether he would have the authority as president to institute a national mask mandate via an executive order. “We think we do, but I can’t guarantee you that yet,” he said, adding that he would also call all governors to the White House and urge them to implement mandates in their states.

By Felicia Sonmez
September 16, 2020 at 4:37 PM EDT

Lawmakers to hold ceremony marking start of inauguration stage construction

The congressional committee that oversees the presidential inauguration every four years will host its traditional “First Nail Ceremony” next week, marking the beginning of construction of the platform where either Trump or Biden will take the oath of office on Jan. 20.

Traditionally, the president-elect is sworn in before a large crowd that gathers outside the Capitol. But with the coronavirus pandemic it is unclear what that will look like next year.

In August, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies (JCCIC), predicted a socially distanced ceremony.

It’s “clearly something we’re thinking about,” Blunt said during an interview with Washington Post Live. “My guess is we’ll be outside in some sort of socially distanced way.”

The “First Nail Ceremony,” to be held at 11 a.m. Sept. 23, will feature Blunt, Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton and the other members of the JCCIC — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Cali.), House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — as they hammer the first nail into a plank that will be part of the future inaugural stage.

By Colby Itkowitz
September 16, 2020 at 4:31 PM EDT

Senate committee authorizes subpoenas in investigation of origins of Trump-Russia probe

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee voted along party lines Wednesday to give its chairman the authority to depose 40 witnesses in his ongoing investigation into the origins of the federal government’s scrutiny of possible ties between Russian officials and the Trump campaign.

The panel also voted to give Johnson the authority to subpoena seven of those individuals, including former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe and University of Cambridge professor Stefan Halper, whom Trump’s supporters have accused of helping the FBI “spy” on the president’s 2016 campaign.

The committee had previously voted, also along party lines, to allow Johnson to subpoena the other 33 individuals, including former FBI director James B. Comey and former CIA director John Brennan, but never took a companion vote authorizing the depositions.

The panel’s long-simmering investigation into the origins of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into links between Trump associates and Russian officials, known as “Crossfire Hurricane,” and the “unmasking” of individuals on the Trump transition team in 2016 is revving up at the same time as another probe into former vice president Joe Biden’s ties to Ukraine is winding down.

The committee’s chairman, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), said Wednesday that he hopes to release the final report from the Ukraine investigation in “days.” Johnson also said this week that the final interviews in that probe, with U.S. ambassadors Geoffrey Pyatt and Bridget Brink, will take place on Monday and Tuesday.

Even if that schedule slips, Johnson’s report — which his staff worked on in cooperation with the office of Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) — is expected to be unveiled in the height of the campaign season.

Democrats have accused Johnson of using the Ukraine probe as an attempt to damage Biden’s chances of beating Trump in November. They have also alleged that the investigation is relying on Russian disinformation, an accusation that Johnson has repeatedly and vehemently denied, arguing there is legitimate grounds to scrutinize whether Hunter Biden’s securing a lucrative board position with a Ukrainian energy company while his father was vice president affected the course of official U.S.-Ukraine policy.

On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and the Senate Finance Committee’s ranking Democrat, Ron Wyden (Ore.), filed a resolution calling for the close of any investigation or activity that allows Congress to be used “as a conduit for Russian disinformation” — a clear swipe at Johnson’s probe.

It is not clear what product Johnson has planned in the investigation of the Trump-Russia probe. But last month, he said that the more evidence his committee could “expose of the corruption of the transition process between Obama and Trump … I would think it would certainly help Donald Trump win reelection and certainly be pretty good, I would say, evidence about not voting for vice president Biden.”

By Karoun Demirjian
September 16, 2020 at 4:15 PM EDT

Video: Trump is still promising a health-care plan that he has yet to deliver on

During an ABC News town hall Tuesday, President Trump again touted a forthcoming health-care plan, something he has done four times over the past three months and 16 times since November 2016.

Trump has yet to release a health-care plan to replace the Affordable Care Act. His administration has promised to cover Americans with preexisting conditions even as it has called for the Supreme Court to invalidate the ACA, which provides consumer protections for patients with preexisting conditions.

On July 19, Trump said he would release a health plan “within two weeks.” More than two weeks later, he said the plan would be out by the end of August. Pressed on these claims Tuesday, the president falsely said he had already released a health plan.

On Wednesday, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said White House aides were working on a plan, before telling reporters, “I’m not going to give you a readout of what our health-care plan looks like and who’s working on it.”

It came less than three hours after three top Trump administration health officials testified that they had no knowledge of a forthcoming plan.

By JM Rieger
September 16, 2020 at 3:48 PM EDT

More than 4 in 10 Republicans back Trump’s unsupported claim that voter fraud is a ‘major’ issue with mail-in ballots

Trump has frequently made the unsupported claim that the expansion of voting by mail amid the coronavirus pandemic will lead to widespread voter fraud, and a new survey out Wednesday shows that a large share of Republicans believe him.

Forty-three percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents in the Pew Research Center survey said voter fraud is a “major problem” associated with mail-in ballots. Only 11 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents said the same, with 47 percent saying it’s “not a problem at all.”

The poll of U.S. adults was conducted Aug. 31 to Sept. 7 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.7 percentage points.

The view that mail-in ballots are rife with voter fraud is most widely held among Republicans and GOP-leaning independents who use only Fox News Channel or talk radio as their main sources of political news. Among them, 61 percent said voter fraud is a major problem with voting by mail, with only 1 percent saying it’s not an issue at all.

According to The Washington Post’s Fact Checker, Trump has peddled false claims or imaginary threats about voting by mail more than 100 times this year, sowing confusion as states prepare for the election and falsely accusing state officials of trying to rig the outcome.

By Felicia Sonmez
September 16, 2020 at 3:45 PM EDT

FEC chairman says universal mail-in voting would ‘cause mass confusion,’ echoing Trump’s criticism

The chairman of the Federal Election Commission echoed criticisms by President Trump and other prominent Republicans of the expansion of mail-in voting in the fall, saying states that send mail ballots to “anybody and everybody” would “cause mass confusion,” according to comments he made during a recent interview.

James E. “Trey” Trainor III, a Republican commissioner, was referring to a practice in which election officials proactively send mail ballots to eligible voters, often referred to as universal mail voting.

Trainor said that while voting by mail has existed for many decades, “this wholesale of just mailing out ballots to anybody and everybody — I think is going to cause mass confusion as we get towards Election Day.” Trump has used similar rhetoric about the expansion of mail voting.

During the interview, Trainor referenced how the expansion of mail voting could confuse voters in his home state of Texas. However, Texas maintains strict limits on who can vote by mail.

He warned that in Texas, “if you were to receive a ballot in the mail that you didn’t ask for, you’re going to get on a list that says you have a ballot in your hands. And if you go to show up on Election Day to vote, they’re not going to let you vote because they think you have a ballot in yours hands.”

Trainor then said voters would need to go to their county clerk’s office to surrender their mail ballots to vote in person — a “rigorous process” that would slow down voters on Election Day and create “mass chaos.”

Though Trainor used this example to illustrate his concerns with states that have universal mail-in voting — which is available in a handful of states that mail ballots to eligible voters regardless of whether they requested one — Texas is not one of the states that allow such practices.

In fact, Texas is one of only six remaining states that are using strict lists of excuses to decide who can vote by mail this year. Absentee ballots will be mailed only to voters who have been approved to receive one because they are 65 years or older; have a disability; are out of the county on Election Day and during early voting; or are jailed but otherwise eligible to vote.

Those in Texas who applied for an absentee ballot and received one in the mail but still want to vote at the polls on Election Day must surrender their mailed ballot, as Trainor described.

Trainor, previously an Austin-based election law attorney who had advised the Republican National Committee and Trump during the 2016 election, was appointed as FEC commissioner in May and became chairman shortly after he was sworn in.

The FEC enforces federal election laws and regulations for candidates and campaigns. It does not regulate election administration.

Trainor’s interview was published Wednesday on Church Militant, considered a fringe Catholic website known for incendiary content and which espouses right-wing stances against globalism, immigration, abortion and “radical Islam.”

Earlier this year, the website drew backlash for its video of Archbishop Wilton Gregory, the first Black leader of the Archdiocese of Washington, describing him as an “accused homosexual,” a “Marxist” and an “African Queen.”

Church Militant, which operates within the Archdiocese of Detroit, was reprimanded by the archdiocese in 2011 and told to change its name from “Real Catholic TV” because the archdiocese said it “lacked the authorization required under Church law to identify or promote itself as Catholic.”

Sarah Pulliam Bailey and Elise Viebeck contributed to this report.

By Michelle Lee
September 16, 2020 at 3:07 PM EDT

Senate Republicans block Democratic resolution calling for ‘end to using congressional resources to launder Russian disinformation’

Democrats pushed the measure Wednesday as they targeted the Republican-led investigation looking at Joe Biden’s dealings with Ukraine while he was vice president. Democrats cast the probe as a politically driven inquiry to try to damage the party’s presidential nominee.

“Flimsy accusations made against the vice president can’t stand up to real scrutiny,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who said the investigation began as counterprogramming to the impeachment trial of President Trump, went dormant when the Senate acquitted Trump and then was revived when Biden “established himself as the Democratic front-runner.”

In making the case that the investigation was politically motivated, Wyden quoted Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, who said in August of his inquiry, “I would think it would certainly help Donald Trump win reelection.”

On the Senate floor, Johnson objected to the Democratic resolution, defended his probe and said he was not relying on Russian disinformation. Democrats contend that the origins of Johnson’s investigation were rooted in Kremlin-backed disinformation.

Earlier in the day, Johnson’s panel voted to authorize subpoenas in its probe targeting former Obama administration officials.

“As I have stated repeatedly, the public has a right to know, our investigation is focused on uncovering and revealing the truth, but Democrats seem intent at every turn to frustrate and interfere with our oversight efforts,” Johnson said at the committee meeting.

The investigation focuses on whether Biden’s son Hunter’s lucrative role on the board of a Ukrainian energy company was potential evidence of wrongdoing.

By Donna Cassata
September 16, 2020 at 2:57 PM EDT

Sen. Lindsey Graham, Democrat Jaime Harrison tied in new South Carolina poll

A new Quinnipiac University poll shows Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) locked in a tie with his Democratic challenger, former South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison, in his battle for a fourth term in the Senate.

The survey shows Graham and Harrison each winning the backing of 48 percent of likely voters in the state. The poll was conducted Sept. 10-14 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

Graham, 65, has long been a shoo-in in South Carolina, winning Senate races by double digits in three successive races. But now, he is facing a tight race against Harrison, 44, who has energized the Black community and suburban voters amid significant changes in the state’s population. Graham is being far outspent by Harrison, who has raised a stunning $29 million and has about $10 million for the final stretch.

“A victor by almost 16 points back in 2014, Senator Graham stares down the first real test of his Senate tenure. Outspent and accused by some of being a Trump apologist, he is in a precarious tie,” Quinnipiac University polling analyst Tim Malloy said in a statement.

The poll shows 47 percent of likely voters have a favorable opinion of Harrison, while 44 percent say the same of Graham. Forty-nine percent view Graham unfavorably, while only 34 percent have an unfavorable opinion of Harrison.

The survey shows Trump with a slight lead over Biden in South Carolina, with 51 percent of likely voters supporting the president and 45 percent backing Biden. And despite the tie between Graham and Harrison in the poll, a majority of the state’s likely voters — 52 percent — said they want to see the Republican Party maintain control of the Senate in this year’s elections.

By Felicia Sonmez