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The Commission on Presidential Debates said Monday night that it will mute President Trump’s and Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s microphones during parts of Thursday’s presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville. The commission said it will give Trump and Biden two minutes apiece to speak uninterrupted at the start of each segment.

Trump’s campaign has repeatedly opposed the idea of granting the moderator the power to shut off a candidate’s microphone — an idea that has been floated in the aftermath of the first debate, during which Trump repeatedly interrupted and jeered at Biden.

With 15 days until Election Day …
  • Trump offered an upbeat assessment of his reelection prospects and called Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease official, “a disaster” during a call with campaign staffers on Monday.
  • Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), returned to the trail with events in Florida, where in-person early voting began Monday. Vice President Pence campaigned in Maine and Pennsylvania.
  • The Supreme Court allowed Pennsylvania election officials to count mail-in ballots received up to three days after Election Day, refusing a Republican request to stop a pandemic-related procedure approved by the state’s highest court.
  • Despite heavy rain, thousands of voters in Florida flocked to the polls on the state’s first day of in-person voting, another sign that Americans are unusually eager to cast ballots in this year’s presidential election.
  • Biden leads Trump by 11 percentage points nationally, 54 percent to 43 percent, according to an average of national polls since Oct. 4. Biden’s margin is smaller in key states: eight points in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan; seven in Arizona; and six in Florida.
1:21 a.m.
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Debate commission says it will mute Trump’s and Biden’s microphones during some parts of Thursday’s event

By Felicia Sonmez and Josh Dawsey

The Commission on Presidential Debates said Monday night that it will mute Trump’s and Biden’s microphones during parts of Thursday’s presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville.

The 90-minute debate will be broken up into six 15-minute segments, each with a different topic. The commission said it will give Trump and Biden two minutes apiece to speak uninterrupted at the start of each segment. A period of “open discussion” will follow until the next segment begins.

Trump’s campaign has repeatedly opposed the idea of granting the moderator the power to shut off a candidate’s microphone — an idea that has been floated in the aftermath of the first debate, during which Trump repeatedly interrupted and jeered at Biden.

But in a statement Monday night, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien suggested the president still plans to participate.

“President Trump is committed to debating Joe Biden regardless of last minute rule changes from the biased commission in their latest attempt to provide advantage to their favored candidate,” Stepien said. He did not provide evidence to back up his accusation that the nonpartisan debate commission favors Biden.

“This was supposed to be the foreign policy debate, so the President still looks forward to forcing Biden to answer the number one relevant question of whether he’s been compromised by the Communist Party of China,” he added.

The statement echoes other suggestions by campaign officials in recent days that Trump plans to grill Biden on his son’s business ties as well as his foreign policy record as vice president and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

11:38 p.m.
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Supreme Court denies GOP request to stop extended period for returning mail ballots in Pennsylvania

By Robert Barnes

The Supreme Court on Monday night allowed Pennsylvania election officials to count mail-in ballots received up to three days after Election Day, refusing a Republican request to stop a pandemic-related procedure approved by the state’s highest court.

The court was tied, but that means a request to put the state’s court ruling on hold failed. The court’s four most conservative justices — Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh — said they would have granted the stay.

But it takes five votes to issue a stay, and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. sided with liberal justices Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

10:55 p.m.
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In Arizona, Trump says he’s not ‘running scared,’ dismisses fears he may drag down Senate candidates

By Felicia Sonmez
President Trump on Oct. 19 said he’s not “running scared” as national polls have him trailing Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. (The Washington Post)

In an exchange with reporters in Phoenix on Monday, Trump dismissed critics who say he is “running scared” in the face of polls that show him trailing Biden in battleground states across the country.

“I’m not running scared,” Trump said. “I think I’m running angry. I’m running happy and I’m running content because we’ve done a great job.”

He dismissed the notion that he may drag down some Republican Senate candidates in the polls, suggesting that he “probably” helps them.

“I think I’m doing well,” Trump said. “I’m an individual. I think I’m doing very well as an individual. And I probably help some. I don’t think I hurt anybody. But I don’t view them as being tied together. I never did. I could do fantastically well in this state and we could have a Senate candidate that does unbelievably badly.”

Trump also called on the FBI to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter, in the wake of a controversial New York Post story about the younger Biden’s alleged emails, saying, “On its face, he is as guilty as he could be.” The Washington Post was unable to verify the authenticity of the alleged emails and other correspondence that the New York Post published last week.

10:09 p.m.
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Trump campaign criticizes topics for Thursday’s debate, saying ‘only a few’ touch on foreign policy

By Felicia Sonmez

Trump’s campaign urged the Commission on Presidential Debates on Monday to change the topics for this Thursday’s debate, arguing that “only a few” of the ones selected by NBC News’s Kristen Welker “even touch on foreign policy.”

Last Friday, the commission announced that Welker had chosen six topics for the debate: fighting the coronavirus, American families, race in America, climate change, national security and leadership.

In a letter to members of the debate commission, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said the event “was always billed as the ‘Foreign Policy Debate’ ” and suggested, without evidence, that other topics were included because Biden is “desperate to avoid conversations about his own foreign policy record.”

“The Commission’s pro-Biden antics have turned the entire debate season into a fiasco and it is little wonder why the public has lost faith in its objectivity,” Stepien said in the letter, again without providing evidence to back up his claim.

Trump’s campaign has repeatedly opposed the idea of granting the moderator or others affiliated with the debate commission the power to shut off a candidate’s microphone — an idea that has been floated in the aftermath of the first debate, during which Trump repeatedly interrupted and jeered at Biden.

Stepien said in Monday’s letter that such a move would be “completely unacceptable” but did not detail what action the Trump campaign might take if the debate commission chooses to do so.

The debate commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Trump campaign’s letter.

10:01 p.m.
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Dispatch from Colorado: ‘I’ve never seen this country as divided as it is right now’

By Jennifer Oldham

In Arapahoe County, several voters made their way into the county building to cast their ballots on the first day of statewide in-person voting.

Arapahoe has been among the country’s most highly sought-after swing counties in past presidential elections, but it is now tilting decidedly blue after electing Rep. Jason Crow (D) in 2018.

Nigerian immigrants Dorothy Ohake, 52, and Deborah Guang, 50, came together to drop off their mail ballots on a break from their jobs at separate nursing homes. The pair described a harrowing spring as they worked seven days a week when co-workers afraid of the coronavirus decided to stay home. Both said their facilities lost whole “units,” numbering 8 to 10 people each, of elderly residents.

Ohake, who spent months shedding her nursing uniform in the garage each day after work to protect her family, said she’s dreading another wave of the virus, as Colorado’s positivity rate climbed over 5 percent this month, and the number of people hospitalized in the state is the highest since May 31.

“This is one of the most critically important elections in our lifetime,” said Ohake, who voted for Biden, hoping his embrace of science will bring the virus under control and return her nursing home to some normalcy. “My job was like a war zone in March and April. I can’t take it a second time; it’s just too much stress.”

Ohake, who is urging her friends to vote early, added that she’s afraid violence will ensue at polling locations Nov. 3. Guang said that she also voted for Biden and expressed disgust at Trump’s disregard for medical professionals’ opinions.

“He doesn’t respect anybody. My values are Republican values, pro-life, sanctity of marriage, but there’s just too much division,” Guang said. “The president is 100 percent racist.”

A few miles south in Aurora, one of the nation’s most diverse cities, cars lined up onto a side street as people drove into the parking lot lined with pine trees at Mission Viejo Library to deposit their ballots in a white drop-off box.

Lizzy Buckmann’s 4-year-old son Destyn stood on the tiptoes of his white and black checkered Vans to push her mail ballot into the metal slot. He grinned as an election judge handed him an “I Voted” sticker and immediately peeled off the back and pasted it onto his navy blue Denver Broncos shirt.

Buckmann, who also has a 9-year-old and a 15-year-old, said she voted for Biden because she likes his and Harris’s plan to provide child care for more American families. “Child care is too expensive. I need to make sure Destyn and my other kids are well taken care of,” said Buckmann, 34, who works at home for AT&T.

Like other in-person voters in Colorado on Monday, the mom of three, who wore a baby blue shirt that read “2020 — Absolutely Horrible,” said she felt a weight off her shoulders to have voting taken care of.

So did Mike Storin, 69, a retired eighth-grade science teacher who made a rare foray out of his house Monday. Storin said he voted early for Biden because “I want my vote to count,” and because he’s worried about the country his 5-year-old grandson is growing up in.

“I’ve never seen this country as divided as it is right now,” Storin said. He cheered on other drivers in cars waiting to drop off ballots, telling them: “Good for you! Way to come out! Isn’t this exciting?”

9:44 p.m.
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Analysis: Trump needs the race to tighten in the next two weeks. Here’s where it is — and isn’t.

By Philip Bump

It’s hard to know with certainty what voters will do before they do it.

In 2016, for example, we understood from polling that both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were viewed negatively by the electorate. We also knew that, comparing the two major-party candidates on their personal qualities, more voters said that they had confidence in Clinton than in Trump. Over the course of the campaign, Clinton’s lead rose and receded, with a large chunk of the electorate withholding an opinion. For those observing the pattern, the result wasn’t clear. Would the race end with a big Clinton lead or a small one? Would those indifferent voters vote or stay home? If they voted, whom would they support?

Once the vote results were tallied, we had our answer. The 2016 race narrowed in the last days of the campaign, with undecided voters shifting to support Trump. Some of the voters who didn’t like either candidate probably stayed home, but those who voted preferred Trump by a 17-point margin over Clinton.

From the outset of the 2020 contest, it’s seemed as though Trump was hoping to replicate this strategy against former vice president Joe Biden. If he could make Biden unpopular, push his own supporters to the polls and win over those who made up their minds late, maybe he could win two contests in a row.

So far, however, that’s not how things have worked out.

8:32 p.m.
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Biden responds to Trump’s attacks on Fauci: ‘The American people are tired’

By Felicia Sonmez

Biden on Monday seized on Trump’s attacks on Fauci, saying in a statement that the president is lashing out at public health experts “instead of laying out a plan to beat this virus or heeding their advice about how we can save lives and get our economy moving again.”

“President Trump even criticized me yesterday for listening to the scientists — that’s not an attack, that’s a badge of honor,” Biden said.

The former vice president went on to criticize Trump’s leadership, arguing that “all President Trump has done is cower and wallow in self-pity.”

“Mr. President, you’re right about one thing: The American people are tired,” he said. “They’re tired of your lies about this virus. They’re tired of watching more Americans die and more people lose their jobs because you refuse to take this pandemic seriously.”

Not long after Biden issued his statement, Trump renewed his attacks, telling a crowd in Prescott, Ariz., that Biden “wants to listen to Dr. Fauci” and taking aim at Fauci’s past statements about wearing masks.

“You have to understand him; he’s a promoter,” Trump said of Fauci.

8:16 p.m.
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Opening day of early voting in Florida draws thousands of voters

By Amy Gardner, Michael Majchrowicz and Lori Rozsa

Thousands of voters flocked to the polls throughout Florida on the state’s first day of in-person voting Monday despite heavy rains across the state, adding to the evidence that Americans are unusually eager to cast ballots in this year’s presidential election.

In Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Sarasota, St. Petersburg and many other Florida communities, voters lined up before polls opened Monday to cast their ballots in person at the first available moment.

Statewide data from Friday showed a distinct advantage for Democrats among mail voters, with more than 1 million Democrats casting ballots by mail compared to about 620,000 Republicans, according to the Florida Democratic Party. But it is too early to say whether the first round of in-person voting in Florida would favor Democrats or Republicans. In other states where such data is available, enthusiasm is far higher among registered Democrats among both mail and in-person voting.

7:31 p.m.
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Voter confusion rattles election officials in Pennsylvania near Monday’s deadline to register

By Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Elise Viebeck

Elections officials in Pennsylvania are being inundated with complaints from first-time and absentee voters having difficulty registering to vote or requesting a mail ballot, fueling anxiety in the critical swing state just as the 5 p.m. Monday deadline approaches to join the voting rolls in time for the November election.

College students in at least three counties who attempted to register to vote online had their applications rejected and were notified that they must provide documentation in person or by mail to meet the Monday deadline. Meanwhile, other voters are receiving rejection notices for their absentee ballot requests without a clear explanation. County officials said the vast majority were because voters had already requested a general-election ballot when they were applying to vote by mail for the primary election, so they didn’t need to request one again for the fall.

7:20 p.m.
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Cruz, other Senate Republicans to release plan barring ‘court-packing’

By Seung Min Kim

Ahead of Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s expected confirmation to the Supreme Court in the coming days, a coalition of Senate Republicans is offering proposals intended to prevent Democrats from so-called “court-packing.”

The symbolic measures are intended for Republicans to go on the offensive against Democrats as the issue of whether to expand the number of seats on the nine-member Supreme Court remains a delicate one in the final days of the presidential and Senate campaigns.

A half-dozen senators led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) will unveil the proposals later Monday. The first is a constitutional amendment — which would require support of two-thirds of Congress and then ratification by three-fourths of individual states — barring the contraction or expansion of the number of seats on the Supreme Court.

The second would bar any proposals to change the size of the Supreme Court from even being considered in the Senate unless two-thirds of its members agree.

“Make no mistake, if Democrats win the election, they will end the filibuster and pack the Supreme Court, expanding the number of justices to advance their radical political agenda, entrenching their power for generations, and destroying the foundations of our democratic system,” Cruz said in a statement describing his proposals.

He added: “We must take action before Election Day to safeguard the Supreme Court and the constitutional liberties that hang in the balance.”

Endorsing the measure are three Senate Republicans in competitive contests in November — Sens. Thom Tillis (N.C.), Martha McSally (Ariz.) and Kelly Loeffler (Ga.) — who have warned of court-packing should Democrats win the White House and retake the Senate majority in November.

“For the last few years, Democrats have made no secret of their desire to see a radical, socialist agenda imposed on the American people,” said a statement by Tillis, who along with Cruz sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Unable to implement their job-killing plans through the Democratic process, they’ve decided they’ll simply impose it on the American people through the Supreme Court.”

Barrett’s nomination is expected to clear the Judiciary Committee on Thursday afternoon, and she could be confirmed by the full Senate as early as Oct. 26.

In 2016, Cruz was among the senators who suggested that Republicans could block a Supreme Court nominee indefinitely under a Democratic president, saying there is “certainly long historical precedent” for a Supreme Court with fewer than nine justices and saying, “That’s a debate that we are going to have.”

7:14 p.m.
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N.C. attorney general announces agreement on process for fixing deficient mail ballots

By Elise Viebeck

A weeks-long dispute in North Carolina over mail ballots returned without a witness signature came to an end Monday, allowing county boards of election to resume the “cure” process for thousands of deficient ballots left in limbo as the state continues its early-voting period.

An agreement announced by state attorney general Josh Stein (D) stated that ballots without a witness signature will not be “curable” with a simple certification or affidavit, reversing previous guidance that drew lawsuits from Republicans. A voter certification will still serve to correct other ballot problems such as a missing voter signature or witness address.

Stein tweeted that his office, the State Board of Elections and the Republican National Committee agreed with the new policy, which was posted on Twitter by top Democratic elections lawyer Marc Elias.

“My office has notified the Court, & county boards are resuming cure process to make sure every eligible vote counts,” Stein wrote.

Last week, a federal judge blocked North Carolina voters from using affidavits to fix mail ballots returned without a witness signature. The judge upheld an extended return deadline that will allow ballots to count if they are postmarked by Election Day and received up to nine days later.

7:03 p.m.
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Trump says Fauci needs to make ‘better decisions,’ mocks his opening pitch from July baseball game

By John Wagner and Felicia Sonmez

Hours after describing Anthony S. Fauci as a “disaster” in a call with his campaign staff, Trump leveled another round of attacks on Twitter, saying the nation’s top infectious-disease official needs to “make better decisions” and mocking him for an errant ceremonial opening pitch at a Washington Nationals game.

The tweet came in response to an interview on CBS News’s “60 Minutes” on Sunday in which Fauci said the White House had restricted his media appearances, keeping him from accepting offers to appear on “many, many, many shows that asked for me.”

“Dr.Tony Fauci says we don’t allow him to do television, and yet I saw him last night on @60Minutes, and he seems to get more airtime than anybody since the late, great, Bob Hope,” Trump tweeted. “All I ask of Tony is that he make better decisions. He said ‘no masks & let China in’.”

Even as Trump has attacked Fauci, the president’s reelection campaign is continuing to air TV ads featuring him. Fauci has objected to the ads, noting that they quote him out of context and without his permission, but the Trump campaign has refused to take them down.

In his tweet, Trump also said Fauci has a “Bad arm!” — a reference to his inaugural ceremonial first pitch of the 2020 Major League Baseball season in July at Nationals Park — and suggested he not wear Nationals face coverings, as he often does.

“Tony should stop wearing the Washington Nationals’ Mask for two reasons,” Trump tweeted. “Number one, it is not up to the high standards that he should be exposing. Number two, it keeps reminding me that Tony threw out perhaps the worst first pitch in the history of Baseball!”

Fauci did initially discourage mask-wearing, at a time when he and other public health officials were worried about a shortage of N95 masks needed by hospital workers. In recent months, he has consistently advocated for them. When Trump in late January announced that non-U. S. citizens were barred from traveling from China, Fauci supported the idea.

Not long after Trump’s tweet, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) issued a statement defending Fauci — but making no mention of the president.

“Dr. Fauci is one of our country’s most distinguished public servants,” said Alexander, who is chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “He has served six presidents, starting with Ronald Reagan. If more Americans paid attention to his advice, we’d have fewer cases of COVID-19, and it would be safer to go back to school and back to work and out to eat.”

6:29 p.m.
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Dispatch from Colorado: In-person voting begins, but most still opt to cast ballots by mail

By Jennifer Oldham

On the first day of in-person voting in Colorado on Monday, election judges braced for long lines after Denver election officials received hundreds of calls last week asking what time polling places opened.

The queues didn’t materialize. Colorado is one of a handful of states that conducts elections by mail and has sent ballots to all active registered voters since 2013. Fewer than 1 in 10 voters here typically votes at a polling place in person.

But with questions about election security and fraud dominating national news, some Denver voters did step out into the crisp fall air to cast their ballots in person.

Leonard Brisendine, 66, arrived before polls opened to cast a ballot downtown at the McNichols Civic Center Building, its windows still boarded up after being shattered during days of protests last summer. He was first in a line of one.

The retired professional counselor said concerns about voter intimidation prompted him to come out on the first day and joked that he brought a folding chair, water and snacks because he expected to have a long wait.

“I thought there would be an enormous line,” said Brisendine, who said he didn’t cast a ballot in 2016 because he was in Mexico. A lifelong Democrat, Brisendine recently changed his registration to independent. He said he wasn’t excited to vote for Biden, adding “He’s certainly good enough,” but that he’s more enthusiastic about Harris’s prospects as vice president.

Statewide turnout — calculated here as the number of mail ballots sent back to county clerks who administer elections — is already 24 times what it was at this time in 2016, according to Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold. A historic number of people applied to be election judges. The number of people who voted in June’s primary election hit an all-time high.

At a United Methodist Church about three miles to the east of downtown on Monday, Victoria Martinez, 45, and Robbie Martinez, 46, pulled their silver sedan into a space and parked. They got out of the car and briskly walked their ballots over to a red metal drop box, accepting “I Voted” stickers from volunteers. Victoria said she wanted to put the paper envelope into the box herself.

“It was important to walk it over there and see that it went into the slot,” said Martinez, a nurse at a group home who fell ill with covid-19 earlier this year. “I like to get my ballot in early — even though there’s no one to vote for this year.”

Robbie Martinez, a journeyman electrician, said he talked to Victoria about how voting for a third-party candidate could be detrimental in this election, which could be close. In the end, both voted for Biden, even though “both of our families are die-hard Trump supporters,” Robbie said.

The couple said they’re looking for Biden to bring stability to the country, to make progress on the virus and to right the economy. “I was really motivated to get here and get my ballot in,” Robbie Martinez said.

6:02 p.m.
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Melania Trump to return to the campaign trail on Tuesday, White House says

By John Wagner

First lady Melania Trump plans to return to the campaign trail on Tuesday, joining her husband at a rally in Erie, Pa., her office confirmed Monday.

Melania Trump’s travel had been curtailed for months because of the coronavirus pandemic, and then the White House announced Oct. 2 that both she and the president had tested positive.

Last month, Melania Trump made a solo trip to a New Hampshire hospital that has a cuddling program to soothe babies born with opioid addiction. But that trip was advertised as being part of her official duties, not a campaign event. She also attended the first presidential debate, held last month in Cleveland.

Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s press secretary, confirmed that Melania Trump plans to travel with the president to Pennsylvania on Tuesday as he continues a busy schedule of campaign rallies.