President Trump was highly visible Thursday, making a brief stop at the Supreme Court to pay respects to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and later visiting two crucial battlegrounds states. Trump gave a health-care policy speech in North Carolina and then held a campaign rally in Florida. Democratic nominee Joe Biden had no events as he prepared for next week’s first debate.

The campaign is playing out amid multiple controversies, including Trump’s refusal Wednesday to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses. Several Republicans stepped forward Thursday to offer assurances that there would be a peaceful transfer, and Trump said in a radio interview that he would accept a Supreme Court ruling on the election results.

With 40 days until the election …
  • Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election, asserting that if he does not win, it will be because of fraudulent mail-in voting.
  • Trump said a plan by the Food and Drug Administration to issue tough new standards for emergency approval of a coronavirus vaccine “sounds like a political move” and warned that the White House might reject it.
  • Republicans are hoping that the fight over Ginsburg’s successor boosts Trump’s reelection bid and helps their party hold its Senate majority.
  • Biden leads Trump by eight percentage points nationally, 51 percent to 43 percent, according to a Washington Post average of polls. Biden’s margin is the same in Michigan and smaller in other key states: seven points in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, five in Arizona and one in Florida.
September 24, 2020 at 8:21 PM EDT
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Protesters chanting ‘Hear our voice’ disrupt Trump rally

By Anne Gearan

JACKSONVILLE — Protesters repeatedly disrupted President Trump’s reelection rally, chanting “Hear our voice” and shouting before being shouted down by the president’s supporters.

A group large enough to be heard distinctly throughout the large open-air rally began the chant a few minutes into Trump’s address. The group was concentrated near the rear of the crowd, and near a bank of television cameras.

Trump paused while the disruption played out and remarked “it’s a shame.”

A few minutes later, another group of demonstrators standing closer to Trump’s rostrum began shouting. A young woman wearing a bright pink T-shirt and two others were escorted out by a burly security guard, who cleared a path and warned Trump supporters not to touch the protesters.

Other smaller protests were quickly drowned out by pro-Trump chants of “U-S-A” or “Four more years.”

During his speech, Trump mocked Democratic nominee Joe Biden for remaining largely out of sight while “I’m busting my ass” campaigning. As he did earlier this week, Trump also ridiculed Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and predicted opposition to her will help him win Minnesota, a swing state.

“Omar,” he said, exaggerating the pronunciation of her Somali name. “She’s a beauty,” he said to laughter. “She loves our country very much,” he added sarcastically.

He did not repeat the full attack he made Tuesday at a rally near Pittsburgh.

“She is telling us how to run our country. How did you do where you came from? How is your country doing?” he said then.

Omar immigrated from Somalia and has been an American citizen for two decades.

“Firstly, this is my country & I am a member of the House that impeached you,” she tweeted. “Secondly, I fled civil war when I was 8. An 8-year-old doesn’t run a country even though you run our country like one.”

September 24, 2020 at 8:18 PM EDT
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More voters in battlegrounds Nevada, Pennsylvania and Ohio prefer Biden to pick next Supreme Court justice

By Colby Itkowitz

A new Fox News poll conducted after Ginsburg’s death found Biden with wide leads over Trump in key battlegrounds, Nevada and Pennsylvania and a narrower lead in Ohio.

In all three states, more voters said they trusted Biden over Trump to pick the next Supreme Court justice -- by 10 points in Nevada, nine points in Pennsylvania, and six points in Ohio.

The three states are crucial on the path to the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.

In 2016, Clinton beat Trump by less than two points in Nevada. The latest poll shows Biden up by 11 over Trump there, with large advantages with Hispanics, women and young voters.

Trump beat Clinton by less than one point in Pennsylvania four years ago, but now Biden is leading the president by seven points. Biden has an 18-point advantage with suburban women, a key voting bloc in the swing areas outside Philadelphia.

Polling in Ohio, which Trump won comfortably by 8 points in 2016, portends a closer race this time around. Biden is up by 5 points.

Voters in all three states overwhelmingly say they trust Biden over Trump to handle the coronavirus, while Trump holds a slight advantage when it comes to the economy.

September 24, 2020 at 7:19 PM EDT
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Biden’s team assembles army of election lawyers as country braces for a litigious election

By Annie Linskey

Biden’s campaign has been quietly assembling thousands of election lawyers and volunteers for what they describe as a “massive election protection program.” The goal is to be sure that Biden’s team can identify irregularities early and seek to ensure that he does not lose the White House in a courtroom.

The program was revealed as Trump has said he might not accept the results of the election, refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power and sought to cast doubt on voting by mail, which millions of voters are expected to do this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump also has predicted that the election fight might end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Biden’s campaign has been quietly building the legal team for months, according to an aide, and it includes thousands of lawyers and volunteers who are tasked with voter protection efforts. The campaign has set up 15 state-specific voter hotlines and a national number.

Biden’s team has brought on some of the Democratic Party’s brightest stars, including hiring Washington mega-lawyer Bob Bauer, who is married to top Biden campaign strategist Anita Dunn. Bauer is taking leave from his position on the faculty of New York University’s law school.

The day-to-day legal operation is being overseen by the campaign’s general counsel Dana Remus, and the team includes former solicitors general Donald Verrilli and Walter Dellinger in addition to attorneys at Perkins Coie overseen by Marc Elias, the chair of the firm’s political law group, according to a Biden campaign aide.

Elias’s team will “focus state by state on protecting voter access to the polls and a fair and accurate vote count,” according to the Biden campaign official.

Former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. will play a leading role in an outreach piece to the program.

The overall program includes educating voters about voting options, responding to any whiff of voter suppression and identifying foreign interference along with domestic misinformation.

“The Biden campaign has assembled the biggest voter protection program in history to ensure the election runs smoothly and to combat any attempt by Donald Trump to create fear and confusion with our voting system, or interfere in the democratic process,” Michael Gwin, a Biden campaign spokesman, said in a statement.

September 24, 2020 at 7:03 PM EDT
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Top House Democrat says a Trump win would end democracy

By Colby Itkowitz

House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), whose support for Biden in his state is credited with reinvigorating the former vice president’s lagging primary campaign, said he would accept a Trump victory but that it would signal the end of U.S. democracy.

“I would accept the results and pray for the country, because I know what this means,” Clyburn said during an interview on Fox News. “I have studied history all my life … and I know what the history of this country is. And I know what will result from this election if he gets reelected. This democracy will be gone, gone. That’s what I believe.”

Clyburn was discussing Trump’s refusal to say whether he’d support a peaceful transition if Biden wins. He said he has long believed Trump will not willingly leave the White House if beaten.

“I tend to believe in watching people and listening to people,” Clyburn said. “And when I listen to this man, I know he sees himself as an autocrat. That’s how he sees himself. And he conducts himself that way.”

September 24, 2020 at 6:17 PM EDT
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Trump says seniors will get $200 to pay for prescription drugs ahead of election; details unclear

By Anne Gearan and Amy Goldstein

CHARLOTTE — Trump promised Thursday that millions of Americans would receive $200 toward the cost of prescription drugs and signed executive orders that he said would prevent unexpected medical bills and protect insurance coverage for preexisting medical problems.

Trump convened an audience of health-care professionals and partisans to roll out what he called his vision for health care in the United States, although what the administration outlined attempts to duplicate the most popular element of the Affordable Care Act — only without the force of law.

The president also gave a review of health-care measures that he said his administration already has taken, including efforts to lower the prices for other prescription drugs and prevent price gouging.

Qualifying Medicare beneficiaries will soon receive a prepaid card in the mail to use for paying for medications, Trump and administration aides said. But the White House released no details of how this would work and how it would be funded.

“My plan expands affordable insurance options, reduces the cost of prescription drugs, ends surprise medical billing, increases fairness through price transparency, streamlines bureaucracy, accelerates innovation, strongly protects Medicare and always protects patients with preexisting conditions,” Trump claimed.

“By contrast, the Democrat Party is pushing a socialist nightmare,” he said. “Their plans will result in rationing care, denying choice, putting Americans on wait lists, driving the best doctors out of medicine and delaying lifesaving cures.”

Trump has repeatedly promised a wholesale redesign of the nation’s health-care system but has delivered only piecemeal changes, many aimed at weakening parts of the ACA, which he has promised to kill since before taking office. Much of what he described Thursday already exists or is not solely in his power to deliver.

One action the president took Thursday was signing an executive order saying that it is federal policy that people with preexisting conditions should have their insurance coverage protected, even if the Supreme Court strikes down the ACA, as the administration hopes. The other executive order directs the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to work with Congress to pass a bill forbidding large, unexpected bills that patients sometimes receive after hospital or other care. If Congress does not act by Jan. 1, the order says, HHS should explore ways to forbid such bills by executive actions.

Some in the audience inside an airplane hangar booed at the mention of “Obamacare.”

It is not clear that Trump can mandate changes to the way hospitals or other health-care providers charge for their services, although Congress could address that issue.

September 24, 2020 at 5:37 PM EDT
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Anxious voters line up in Detroit

By Anna Clark

Voters lined up Thursday in Detroit for the first day of voting in Michigan — many eager to cast ballots against Trump but worried that his actions and the pandemic will make it harder to ensure that their votes will be counted.

The line outside the city’s Department of Elections on West Grand Boulevard was long but moved briskly Thursday morning, with voters standing about six feet apart as a coronavirus precaution and election workers with clipboards checking them in. Other voters deposited completed ballots in a dropbox outside, sometimes using a tissue or cloth to pull down the handle.

Carole Blount, a recently retired postal worker, said she wanted to vote early because she was concerned that changes enacted by the new postmaster general, a major donor to Trump, made it risky to vote by mail. “I don’t trust them,” she said of the Trump administration. “That’s why I came to hand it to them in person.”

She said she felt an obligation to come out Thursday because of those who have made sacrifices for the right to vote. “My people, my heritage, were not born with this right, and they had to fight. I owe them my vote,” said Blount, who is Black. “They fought hard and shed blood and died so I could be here in 2020 to vote.”

Lauren Kase and Sam Hamburger had requested that absentee ballots be sent to them in the mail but decided to line up on Thursday anyway because they planned to travel and didn’t know when the ballots would arrive. They also wanted to try to avoid the “ridiculousness,” Hamburger said, of the election fearmongering closer to Election Day.

“I think even last night, with Trump saying several times ‘we’ll see’ if he loses the election …” Hamburger said, shaking his head and trailing off, referring to the president’s remarks Wednesday refusing to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if Joe Biden wins the election.

Voting has started in earnest nationwide. As of Thursday, more than two dozen states had begun to send mail ballots to voters, a number that will rise to about 30 states by the end of the month.

Voters can cast ballots in person in roughly 10 states, including Michigan. More than 40 states offer some form of in-person early voting at polling places or other locations.

Elise Viebeck contributed to this report.

September 24, 2020 at 5:21 PM EDT
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Early voting starts in Illinois: ‘We never have this kind of volume’

By Mark Guarino

The wait to cast a ballot Thursday at the Lake County Courthouse in Waukegan, Ill., north of Chicago, was as long as two and half hours as the first day of early voting kicked off in the state. The first voter showed up at 8 a.m. — an hour before the doors opened — and by midafternoon, at least 300 people had filed through, according to Lake County Clerk Robin O’Connor. The turnout was so unexpected that O’Connor said she plans to add a fourth voting machine Friday to accommodate the demand.

People stood six feet apart inside the modern annex, checking their phones or waiting quietly. “They’re courteous, they’re being polite, they’re following the rules, it’s beautiful. It’s truly beautiful,” O’Connor said.

Socorro Herrera, 36, came out on the first day because, she said, “I wanted to make sure I set an example for people.”

“I checked in on Facebook. I am wearing my sticker. I told my 18-year-old to vote,” she said. “We are all busy, but you can vote too. I want my young kids to know this is important — we all lead busy lives. It’s a privilege, it really is.”

Michael Barr, 54, said he waited in line for two hours and 45 minutes to vote, even though he was only able to pay for two hours of parking at a city meter. “I don’t trust mail-in voting,” Barr said. “We already don’t get regular mail, like bills, on time. There’s no way to trust the mail system to vote.”

Toby Wong, 58, said she voted early because as an immigrant from Canada, “I take my voting rights seriously.”

“I wasn’t going to let fear about the coronavirus stop me,” Wong added. “I am going to make sure my vote counts.”

The county has also seen a huge demand for vote-by-mail ballots: more than 126,000 have been sent out so far to voters, quadruple the number of people who voted by mail in the 2016 general election. O’Connor said she expects to receive “well over 100,000 back” through the mail or via dropboxes located both inside and outside the courthouse.

“Usually by the first day, we never have this kind of volume. We didn’t expect so many people,” said Chief Deputy County Clerk Todd Govain. “This year is very different.”

Statewide, more than 1.8 million Illinois voters had requested mail ballots by Wednesday, according to the state board of elections. In the 2016 election, 370,000 votes were cast by mail in Illinois — a record at the time, and one that is expected to be easily broken this year.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated Toby Wong’s age.

September 24, 2020 at 4:58 PM EDT
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FBI director says widespread mail ballot interference would be a ‘major challenge’ for foreign agents

By Devlin Barrett

FBI Director Christopher A. Wray told senators Thursday that the United States has not experienced large-scale voter fraud by mail or other means and that it would be a “major challenge” for a foreign country to attempt such a thing, despite repeated claims made by Trump in the run-up to November’s election.

“Americans must have confidence in our voting system and our election infrastructure,” Wray told the Senate Homeland Security Committee. “We are not going to tolerate foreign interference in our elections.”

Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) pressed Wray about claims made by Trump and his supporters that foreign interests could interfere with the election by sending in bogus mail-in ballots. Wray responded by echoing past assurances from U.S. intelligence officials that they have seen no sign of such activity in this election cycle.

September 24, 2020 at 4:31 PM EDT
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‘I’m getting very close to a final choice,’ Trump says of Supreme Court decision

By Felicia Sonmez

As he left the White House for North Carolina on Thursday afternoon, Trump told reporters he is nearing a final decision on his nominee to succeed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court, although he declined to say whether he will meet with one of the reported contenders, Barbara Lagoa, while he is in Florida this week.

“I’m getting very close to a final choice,” Trump said.

Asked about a potential meeting with Lagoa — a federal judge and the Miami-born daughter of Cuban exiles — Trump replied: “I don’t want to make a comment on that. But we’re going to make our decision on Saturday.”

The president also repeated his unfounded claim that mail-in ballots are “a whole big scam.”

“We want to make sure the election is honest, but I’m not sure that it can be, with this whole situation — unsolicited ballots,” he said.

In North Carolina, Trump is expected to deliver remarks on his “America First Healthcare Vision” before heading to Jacksonville, Fla., where he will hold a campaign rally Thursday night.

September 24, 2020 at 4:06 PM EDT
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Death of pro-marijuana candidate forces Minnesota to hold special election for House seat

By David Weigel

Did a few thousand Minnesotans accidentally cancel a House election by voting for a pro-marijuana party two years ago? In a word: Yes.

Adam Weeks, the nominee for the Legal Marijuana Now Party in Minnesota’s 2nd District, died this week, with the election already underway. It’s far from the first time a candidate has died while ballots were being cast; in 2002, Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone was killed in a plane crash, and Democrats hurriedly nominated former vice president Walter Mondale to replace him.

That led to confusion about ballots already cast for Wellstone, which, to Democrats’ detriment, were not counted for Mondale. The state subsequently changed the law, requiring a new election if a “major party” candidate died within 79 days of Election Day. The old problem — what to do with votes for a dead candidate — was gone, because the parties no longer would replace that candidate on the ballot. It would be settled by a special election instead.

How did the Legal Marijuana Now Party, a 22-year-old left-wing party, gain “major party” status? Minnesota grants that status to any party that gets more than 5 percent of the vote in the previous election, and in 2018, as Democrats swept Minnesota’s statewide races, 5.3 percent of voters opted for the Legal Marijuana Now Party’s candidate for state auditor.

That created a problem for Democrats this year, and the party filed an Federal Election Commission complaint against Weeks, whose social media posts suggested that he supported Republicans, and who was not filing required paperwork about his finances. While Democratic Rep. Angie Craig won the seat in 2018, she had lost it in 2016, thanks in large part to a left-wing third-party candidate. Republican nominee Tyler Kistner was running a serious race against Craig, but as of July, the Democrat had five times as much cash on hand, and the seat was not seen as a top Republican target.

Now, according to Secretary of State Steve Simon (D), the letter of the law prevents votes in this race from being counted because of Weeks’s death. Though the election will proceed, and votes up and down the ballot will be tallied, votes in the 2nd District won’t.

That will create a February 2021 special election in the district, which could be competitive; Trump won 47 percent of the vote there, edging out Hillary Clinton due to a high share of votes for third-party candidates.

September 24, 2020 at 3:48 PM EDT
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Senate passes resolution ‘reaffirming’ commitment to ‘peaceful transfer of power’

By Colby Itkowitz

The Senate unanimously passed a resolution stating its commitment to a “peaceful transfer of power,” if Trump is defeated — after the president refused to commit to the same.

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) introduced the measure with a lengthy floor speech condemning Trump’s suggestion that he might not accept his loss.

“You know, it’s a shame that we have to come and reaffirm our commitment to our country, to our Constitution, and who we are as a people and how we became a great country, the greatest country on Earth,” Manchin said. “Sometimes we hear things that challenge that, and we heard that yesterday, and we were very concerned about that.”

Manchin went on to say that Trump’s remarks concerned lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, even if most of the Republicans haven’t said so publicly.

“We have come through a lot in our country, and we continue to be challenged. But I believe to have the leader of the free world talk as if we are an autocracy, authoritarian versus a democracy is something that alarmed me and alarmed a lot of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, even those quiet as some may be, I know they’re alarmed.”

September 24, 2020 at 3:09 PM EDT
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Analysis: Why arguments that mail-in balloting will undermine the election are wrong

By Philip Bump

There is a line of rhetoric about the upcoming presidential election that has, by now, set like concrete. The results will be highly dubious, the argument goes, because of the broad expansion of mail-in ballots. The certainty that usually accompanies an election will be out the window as we await vote-counting and, more conspiratorially, as fake ballots are injected to shift the result. It will be a maelstrom of confusion and cheating that will damage the country.

It’s also almost entirely nonsense, generated from a combination of misunderstanding, old false arguments and new political motivations.

September 24, 2020 at 2:08 PM EDT
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Biden campaign criticizes Trump for lack of health-care plan, legal challenges to Affordable Care Act

By Matt Viser

Biden’s campaign criticized Trump for neglecting to present a comprehensive health-care plan even though the election is just weeks away and said his administration’s attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act could leave millions of Americans without coverage during a global pandemic.

“He’s had four years to level with the American people and put forward a plan,” Kate Bedingfield, a deputy Biden campaign manager, said on a call with reporters. “Now, 40 days to the election … he’s once again saying: ‘Trust me. I promise you. I have a plan. I’ll figure it out later.’”

Trump is planning to further outline his plans Thursday and sign an executive order promising to protect people with preexisting conditions.

The Biden campaign called both attempts dubious, pointing to his administration’s push to dismantle the ACA. The next challenge to the law will be heard by the Supreme Court just after the November election, one reason Trump is pushing to fill the court vacancy.

“There is only one good-faith action his administration could take to prove that they will protect people with preexisting conditions: Mr. President, withdraw the brief from the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Stef Feldman, the Biden campaign’s policy director. “Otherwise, this is just another empty commitment, another executive order that President Trump is dropping right before the election after promising it for years.”

Feldman also argued that insurers would consider many of the symptoms from the coronavirus as preexisting conditions, potentially putting people at risk if those protections are not firm.

“I have no doubt that if the Affordable Care Act falls, insurers will deny coverage or increase premiums for people who are experiencing the long-term impact of the coronavirus, such as lung scarring or heart damage,” she said.

Biden’s campaign is attempting to elevate health care into a decisive issue in the campaign, by tying it to the coronavirus and to the Supreme Court vacancy.

“Obviously, this argument about health care is inextricably linked to the fight over the vacant seat on the Supreme Court,” Bedingfield said. “Ultimately this vote on November 3rd is about whether people are going to be able to keep the protections available to them under the Affordable Care Act.”

She also brushed aside Trump’s unwillingness to commit to a peaceful transition of power as another attempt to distract.

“It is easier for Donald Trump to get up and casually say that he won’t commit to a peaceful transition of power,” she said. “It’s easier for him to do that than it is for him to put forward a meaningful health-care plan that’s going to protect coverage for the American people.”

“Joe Biden has obviously participated in a peaceful transition of power before,” Bedingfield said. “He certainly will this time around as well.”

September 24, 2020 at 1:58 PM EDT
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White House declines to say whether election results will be legitimate only if Trump wins

By Felicia Sonmez

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Thursday defended Trump’s refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power in November — but declined to say whether the election results will be legitimate only if the president wins.

Asked about Trump’s response Wednesday night that “we’re going to have to see what happens” if he loses, McEnany told reporters at a White House news briefing, “The president will accept the results of a free and fair election, but I think that your question is more fitting to be asked of Democrats.”

In response to a follow-up question on whether the results will be legitimate only if the president wins, McEnany did not directly reply. “He will accept the results of a free and fair election,” she said.

Trump has asserted that if he does not win, it will be because of fraudulent mail-in voting and not because more Americans voted against him. The president has spent months making unsubstantiated claims that voting by mail is corrupt and will lead to a “rigged” election. In fact, states that have embraced universal mail voting have documented tiny rates of possible ballot fraud, data shows.

Earlier Thursday, in an interview on Fox News, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows was also asked about Trump’s response to the “peaceful transfer of power” question.

“The bottom line here is that this president has been about the rule of law. … He’s consistent with that as it applies to the November 3rd election,” Meadows said. He added, “If every ballot is counted and if it’s a fair election, we have a history of a peaceful transition of power.”

But Meadows also asserted that there is “a perversion of the electoral process” regarding the use of mail-in ballots during the coronavirus pandemic. “It’s really all about making sure that every vote counts, but that only one vote counts, and that we make sure that transition from ballot to ballot box is secure,” he said.

In his remarks Wednesday night, Trump, too, railed against mail-in ballots. “Get rid of the ballots, and you’ll have a very — we’ll have a very peaceful — there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There’ll be a continuation,” Trump said. “The ballots are out of control.”