The Commission on Presidential Debates announced Wednesday that it would add “additional structure” to the remaining faceoffs between President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden after Tuesday night’s chaotic clash in Cleveland, saying “more orderly discussion is needed.”
The announcement came as both candidates returned to the campaign trail, and Biden called Trump’s behavior at the debate “a national disgrace” during a stop in Ohio. Meanwhile, several GOP lawmakers urged Trump to address his refusal during the debate to condemn self-described white supremacists. Democrats widely denounced Trump’s remarks.
Democratic voters who have requested mail ballots — and returned them — greatly outnumber Republicans so far in key battleground states, causing alarm among GOP leaders and strategists.
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 Pennsylvania and smaller in other key states: seven points in Wisconsin and Michigan, five in Arizona and one in Florida.
Biden says Trump has given Proud Boys permission to engage in violence after the election
Biden on Wednesday assailed Trump for dodging an opportunity to forcefully condemn white supremacists during the debate, saying the president gave the right-wing extremist group Proud Boys a new slogan and permission to engage in violence.
“This president has breathed hate and division. … It matters what presidents say,” Biden said at a labor endorsement event in Ohio. “You heard what he said last night when he was asked by the moderator, ‘Will you condemn white supremacy?’ And he fuddled around, didn’t say anything, and I said, ‘How about the Proud Boys?’"
To that, Trump said they should “stand back and stand by,” which Proud Boys members then embraced.
“Go online, look up Proud Boys, they have a new emblem,” Biden said. “Now, literally, it says ‘stand down and stand by,’ implying that if you lose the election, something may have to be done.”
Shortly after the event, Biden tweeted about Trump’s unwillingness to denounce white supremacy and right-wing extremist groups, saying a president shouldn’t have to be begged to do so.
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U.S. Chamber spending $1 million each on Collins and Ernst campaigns
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is moving to help Republicans in two tightly contested Senate races, officials said Wednesday, amid complaints from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the National Republican Senatorial Conference that the Chamber has been largely absent this cycle.
The Chamber said it would spend about $1 million each to help Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Joni Ernst (Iowa) win reelection. The money will be spent on ads that promote their “pro-business policies,” officials said.
“The Chamber’s number one priority is to advance pro-business policies in the Senate.” said CEO Thomas J. Donohue. “For more than 108 years, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has advocated for policies that help businesses create jobs and grow our economy. Sens. Ernst and Collins are champions of pro-growth policies that will move American businesses and workers forward amid a historic economic downturn caused by the coronavirus.”
The Chamber said it had endorsed 17 Republicans this cycle.
The Chamber, traditionally one of the most influential Republican bodies in Washington, has lost some of its influence in recent years, particularly with Republicans. President Trump has kept the organization at arm’s length, and Republican officials have been annoyed that the Chamber has begun to support some Democrats — and that the organization has spent less money on advertisements in Senate races this year than in previous cycles. A National Republican Senatorial Conference (NRSC) official said the Chamber had spent about $4 million on Senate races this year.
“Honestly at this point, I think they’re so confused about what they’re about that they probably don’t make much difference,” McConnell told Politico on Tuesday. NRSC Executive Director Kevin McLaughlin has also complained bitterly about the organization.
“This is a day late and a lot of dollars short,” McLaughlin said Wednesday afternoon, when told of the buy. “It is not a serious effort. It’s a public relations ploy, and it’s not even a good one.”
The Chamber on Tuesday parted ways with Scott Reed, its longtime chief political strategist. Officials at the organization accused him of leaking confidential information, but Reed said he was planning to leave anyway and was frustrated that the organization was not spending more to help Senate Republicans.
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House oversight panel chairman seeks IRS testimony about Trump’s taxes
Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.), who chairs the oversight subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee, asked the IRS commissioner to testify on the explosive New York Times article that revealed details about Trump’s finances and how little he has paid in income tax.
“Left unaddressed by your agency, the revelations of Mr. Trump’s abuse and malfeasance threaten public confidence in the IRS and the very legitimacy of our Federal tax system,” Pascrell wrote to Commissioner Charles Rettig.
Pascrell also called on Rettig to turn over Trump’s personal and business tax returns, a request the Ways and Means Committee first made nearly two years ago.
“As Commissioner of the IRS, you must ensure that our tax system is unshakably supported by rigorous enforcement and that all taxpayers, including public officials, comply with the tax laws,” Pascrell wrote. “You must foster trust and confidence in our tax system and tax administration. However, I fear the reported information undermines Americans’ confidence in our tax system.”
Trump has blocked the release of his tax returns. The White House has also barred witnesses from testifying in the House’s many investigations into Trump’s personal finances, businesses, campaign and administration.
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Pennsylvania Republicans push committee to investigate presidential vote
Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania, a key battleground state in the upcoming presidential election, took the first step on Wednesday to create a committee that would have wide-ranging powers to investigate the vote, including the ability to subpoena election officials and members of the U.S. Postal Service while the election and vote-counting are in progress.
A state resolution to create the new panel in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed in committee along party lines on Wednesday and could be voted on by the full House on Thursday.
Pennsylvania Democrats expressed alarm on Wednesday that the proposed “select committee on election integrity” in the Republican-controlled chamber could disrupt the election by subpoenaing ballots and bringing in election officials and others to testify before the vote count is certified.
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) has one of the most personal areas of criticism for Trump’s performance at Tuesday night’s debate: his dismissal of Beau Biden, Joe Biden’s late son, who was a former state attorney general and had served in the Iraq War.
“I thought that was a little unfortunate, and the thing that makes me grieve that a little bit is that [Beau Biden] was a hero. And I think should be acknowledged as such. And the loss of a son is very difficult, I can attest to that,” Cramer told reporters Wednesday after the GOP’s daily luncheon.
Cramer lost his son, Isaac, at age 35 in March 2018 after he suffered problems with kidney and liver failure related to his battle with alcoholism. Cramer said Trump “conflated” the lives of Beau and Hunter Biden, in one of the most personal, vitriolic moments of an already chaotic debate.
Joe Biden latched on to an Atlantic story earlier this month in which sources said Trump called dead soldiers “losers,” among other statements that disparaged the armed forces.
“He was not a loser, he was a patriot,” Biden said of Beau, listing the military honors his son earned while serving abroad.
“Are you talking about Hunter? Are you talking about Hunter?” Trump interjected.
“I’m talking about my son Beau Biden,” Biden responded.
“I don’t know Beau, I know Hunter,” Trump retorted, going on to list Hunter Biden’s many personal battles with drugs and alcohol and alleging that he received international consulting contracts solely because Joe Biden was the vice president at the time.
Cramer sat at his son’s bedside as he died, later posting a deeply personal account about holding his hand as he took his last breath. “Now Isaac feels no anxiety or urging for alcohol. He feels no pain and will never be depressed again,” Cramer wrote at the time.
On Wednesday, Cramer said Trump should have praised Beau Biden’s service and not attacked Hunter Biden’s personal battles, but noted that it is fair game to question Hunter’s international work.
“You know, I wish that there could have been more sensitivity to that, but then more of a pivot to the other son, which is a legitimate area of disagreement and discussion and, certainly, of further discovery. So, you know, that to me was a missed opportunity,” Cramer told reporters.
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Voting rights advocates see legal wins in Mont., Wis. and Ala.
Federal courts sided with voting rights advocates and Democrats in three more cases on Wednesday, adding to a string of legal victories for groups seeking to make mail voting easier during the coronavirus pandemic.
Judges upheld Montana’s mail voting plan for the general election, kept in place an extended return deadline for mail ballots in Wisconsin, and loosened mail voting rules in Alabama for people who are medically vulnerable. In a fourth development, a federal appeals court allowed South Carolina’s witness requirement to remain blocked.
Recent decisions have revealed judges’ skepticism about Republican claims that lowering barriers to mail voting will lead to widespread fraud in the general election, according to a review of nearly 90 cases by The Washington Post. Wednesday’s ruling in Montana offered another example, with Judge Dana L. Christensen writing that, based on the evidence, such claims are “a fiction” in the state.
“When pressed during the hearing in this matter, the Plaintiffs were compelled to concede that they cannot point to a single instance of voter fraud in Montana in any election during the last 20 years,” Christensen wrote, denying GOP requests to block Montana from allowing counties to administer the general election by mail. “Importantly, Montana’s use of mail ballots during the recent primary election did not give rise to a single report of voter fraud.”
Separately, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit Court denied a motion from the Wisconsin legislature to stay its ruling allowing mail ballots to be counted if they are postmarked by Election Day and received by Nov. 9. The case could be appealed to the Supreme Court.
Finally, Judge Abdul K. Kallon of the Northern District of Alabama exempted people at heightened risk for complications from covid-19, the disease the coronavirus causes, from including a copy of their photo identification with their application for a mail ballot and obtaining a signature on a mail ballot affidavit from a notary or two witnesses. The ruling also stopped Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill from prohibiting counties from offering curbside voting procedures.
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Eleven Democratic governors issue joint statement on election integrity
Eleven Democratic governors issued a joint statement Wednesday voicing concern about the integrity of the November election, declaring they “will not allow anyone to willfully corrupt the Democratic process by delegitimizing the outcome or appointing fraudulent electors against the will of the voters.”
The statement comes as Trump has repeatedly made the baseless claim that mail-in voting is linked to widespread voter fraud. The president has also declined to commit to a peaceful transfer of power in the event he loses the election to Biden.
The governors signing the statement include Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, Delaware Gov. John Carney, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak and New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
“Any efforts to throw out ballots or refuse a peaceful transfer of power are nothing less than an assault on American democracy,” the governors said. “There is absolutely no excuse for promoting the intimidation or harassment of voters. These are all blatant attempts to deny our constituents the right to have their voices heard, as guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, and to know the will of the people will be carried out.”
In a nod to Trump’s refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, they added “if the outcome of this election means the end of a presidency, he must leave office — period.”
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TikTok videos, Facebook Trump ads spread misinformation about Biden’s health after debate
False stories about Biden’s health continued to spread on social platforms the day after the first presidential debate, including misleading Facebook ads by the Trump campaign and a viral video on TikTok.
A false story about Biden wearing an earpiece that emerged on Tuesday also continued to get traction on Facebook after the debate.
The Trump campaign ad, which encourages people to “Check Joe’s Ears,” and asked “Why won’t Sleepy Joe commit to an earpiece inspection,” was viewed between 200,000 to 250,000 times and marketed primarily to people over 55 in Texas and Florida. The implication of the ad, the content of which originated from a tweet by a New York Post reporter who cited a single anonymous source, is that Biden needed the assistance of an earpiece so someone could pass him information during the debates.
South Carolina’s witness requirement for mail ballots remains blocked, after a federal appeals court Wednesday refused to put a lower-court ruling on hold.
Absentee voting has already begun in the state, and the appeals court said that reversing the judge’s order “so close to the election would engender mass voter confusion."
The full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit left the order in place while it reviews the decision of a South Carolina judge who blocked the state from enforcing the witness requirement during the coronavirus pandemic.
The question of whether to stay the ruling for the November election divided the Richmond-based court, with judges nominated by Democratic presidents denying the stay request and those nominated by Republicans dissenting.
The court “properly concluded that imposing the witness requirement now would likely unconstitutionally burden the fundamental right to vote, irreparably harm voters, and disserve the public interest,” wrote Judge Robert King, an appointee of President Bill Clinton who was in the majority of nine judges.
The lower-court ruling, he said, “protects countless lawful voters who otherwise would have to choose between avoiding needless exposure to a deadly virus and exercising their fundamental right to vote.”
Five judges dissented. Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III said the appeals court was improperly interfering with South Carolina’s elections. Wilkinson said that he shares concerns about the risks of exposure to the coronavirus but that the state’s law is sensible and designed to combat voter fraud.
“By substituting its own policy choice for that of the representatives of the Palmetto State, the district court’s injunction robs South Carolina of its sovereign prerogative to determine the rules for its elections,” wrote Wilkinson, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan.
Top election officials say they are concerned about politically motivated poll watchers on Election Day
In response to Trump’s comments during Tuesday night’s debate urging supporters to become poll watchers and monitor poll sites for potential misconduct on Election Day, the Republican secretary of state of Washington state said she is concerned about an influx of politically motivated poll watchers showing up on Election Day, saying it could intimidate voters.
Each state has formal rules around observing polling place activity through monitors, and most of those efforts are done through political parties and local efforts by both parties, noted Kim Wyman, Washington state’s secretary of state. But efforts to ramp up monitors from either party that are beyond the norm could jeopardize how comfortable voters feel going into polling places, she said.
“I get very concerned when we start talking about people ramping up on either side of the aisle and trying to monitor a polling place or have a lot of observers there to make sure things go well outside of those normal rules and regulations, because it can start to amount to voter intimidation,” Wyman said, speaking during a discussion Wednesday hosted by Washington Post Live. “It can make people uncomfortable going into a voting center or a polling place, and we cannot as Americans afford any kind of intimidation.”
Wyman said that such efforts risk making voters feel like elections are not secure or accessible, and that any voters who want to monitor at the polls should go through the official channels of becoming an observer, by contacting their local election offices.
“We can’t go backward in our efforts of enfranchising our voters and making sure that our elections are accessible and secure,” she said. “The last thing that we want is to go back to pre-1965 era of voting where we are potentially suppressing or intimidating voters or keeping them away from exercising their constitutional rights.”
During the event, Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat, added that she is concerned that Trump’s ramped-up rhetoric around election security would suppress voter turnout and sow confusion around the safety of voting.
Washington state and Colorado vote almost entirely by mail, and have vote centers rather than traditional polling places. Nonetheless, both election officials said they were concerned about the increasing politicization of poll watching.
“I am very concerned about voter suppression and will say the president, with his words, is suppressing the vote,” Griswold said. “I got calls last night from people of color worried to go vote, across the nation. The president, with his rhetoric of hate and lies, is suppressing the vote.”
Griswold urged voters to make plans on how they intend to cast their ballot in the fall: “That’s why it’s so important that we all push back, and that Americans are just so determined to make a plan to vote. And if they have access to a mail ballot, use that mail ballot. But show up this election. This is a huge election, and we cannot allow President Trump to suppress voter turnout to try to tilt the election in his favor to keep power.”
Commission on Presidential Debates: ‘Additional tools to maintain order’ are needed
After a chaotic and nearly unwatchable first presidential debate that devolved into interruptions and insults, mostly by Trump, the Commission on Presidential Debates said it would look into changing the format of the remaining debates.
The televised debates are supposed to be “for the benefit of the American electorate,” the commission said in a statement Wednesday, implying that Tuesday night’s unruly slugfest did not achieve that goal.
“Last night’s debate made clear that additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues. The CPD will be carefully considering the changes that it will adopt and will announce those measures shortly,” the statement continued.
Trump’s campaign responded by dismissing the need for any changes.
“They’re only doing this because their guy got pummeled last night,” Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said in a statement. “President Trump was the dominant force and now Joe Biden is trying to work the refs. They shouldn’t be moving the goal posts and changing the rules in the middle of the game.”
During the 98-minute debate, there was an interruption every minute, according to an analysis by The Fix’s Aaron Blake. Trump was responsible for 71 of them, Biden 22.
“I think that the country would be better served if we allowed both people to speak with fewer interruptions,” moderator Chris Wallace said to Trump at one point. “I am appealing to you, sir, to do that.”
The nonpartisan debate commission said it was “grateful to Chris Wallace for the professionalism and skill he brought to last night’s debate and intends to ensure that additional tools to maintain order are in place for the remaining debates.”
Susan Collins pans debate, says there’s blame ‘on both sides’
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who is in the fight of her political life to hold on to her seat, faulted both Trump and Biden for the debate’s pernicious tone.
“It was the least educational debate of any presidential debate I’ve ever seen,” Collins said. When asked which candidate was responsible for that, Collins said, “I think there was fault on both sides.”
Pressed on whether that fault was equally attributed to both men, Collins said, “I think that the interrupting on both sides, the name calling was very unbecoming for a presidential debate.”
Trump is widely viewed as the one who drew the debate into chaos, though Biden did several times call the president names.
Asked about the controversy over Trump’s failure to condemn white supremacy when asked to, Collins said he “absolutely” should have done so. Collins agreed that Trump’s seeming unwillingness to do so was a mistake.
In an exchange with reporters upon leaving the White House on Wednesday afternoon, Trump claimed he did not know anything about the Proud Boys, a male-only extremist group known for its penchant for street violence.
Trump’s remarks came one day after he said at a debate that the group should “stand back and stand by."
“I don’t know who the Proud Boys are,” Trump told reporters Wednesday when asked about the group, whose members have at times sparked fights with the far left that devolve into mayhem. “I mean, you’ll have to give me a definition, because I really don’t know who they are. I can only say they have to stand down. Let law enforcement do their work.”
He added: “Law enforcement will do the work more and more — as people see how bad this radical liberal Democrat movement is and how weak. So, law enforcement’s going to come back stronger and stronger.”
Trump’s remarks about the group also echoed his statement in 2016 that he doesn’t “know anything” about self-declared white supremacist David Duke. They also were reminiscent of the president’s claim last month that he knows little about QAnon, a baseless conspiracy theory that the FBI has identified as a domestic terrorist threat.
“I don’t know much about the movement; I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate,” Trump said of QAnon during a White House news briefing in August. “I heard these are people that love our country.”
On Wednesday, Trump was also pressed by reporters about self-proclaimed white supremacist groups that support him. In response to one question, the president gave an answer that had nothing to do with white supremacy.
“White supremacists — they clearly love you and support you,” a reporter asked. “Do you welcome that?”
“I want law and order to be a very important part — it’s a very important part of my campaign,” Trump responded. “And when I say that, what I’m talking about is law enforcement has to — police has to take care of it. And they should stop defunding the police like they’ve done in New York.”
After a reporter reminded him that the question was about white supremacist groups and asked whether he would denounce them, Trump replied without mentioning the words “white supremacy.”
“I’ve always denounced any form, any form — any form of any of that, you have to denounce,” Trump said. “But I also — Joe Biden has to say something about antifa. It’s not a philosophy. These are people that hit people over the head with baseball bats.”
Another reporter asked Trump whether it concerns him that some members of right-wing unofficial militias are taking to the streets wielding weapons. “It does concern me,” Trump said. “And crime generally concerns me. Any form of crime. Let law enforcement take care of it.”
Asked about the remaining two presidential debates, Trump claimed, falsely, that Biden “wants to get out of the debates” but said that he personally wants to go ahead.
“I would like to,” Trump said. “By every measure, we won the debate easily last night. … I don’t mind debating him. I hear he wants to get out of the debates. I don’t know. That’s up to him.”
Comey defends probe of Trump and Russia as Republicans insist it was biased
Former FBI director James B. Comey defended the bureau’s 2016 investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, pushing back on Senate Republicans’ skeptical questions about the probe and taking particular aim at Attorney General William P. Barr’s assertion that it was unfounded.
Testifying before the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee as part of that panel’s latest review of the Russia probe, Comey repeatedly told GOP lawmakers he disagreed with the “preamble” to their questions and expressed unfamiliarity with recently released information that they claim discredits the investigation.