with Mariana Alfaro

Last week, The Washington Post’s Amy Gardner and Josh Dawsey detailed one of many growing concerns for the Republican Party in the 2020 election: the possibility that President Trump’s attacks on voting by mail could discourage GOP participation in it and hand Democrats a significant advantage come November.

Since then, the evidence supporting that theory has only increased.

In a special congressional election in New York’s 27th District held late last month, Republican Chris Jacobs held a 40-point lead after votes were tallied on primary day. As tens of thousands of absentee ballots have been added to the count, though, Jacobs’s edge has shrunk to 12 points, according to the Associated Press’s latest results. The Democrat in the race, Nathan McMurray, has picked up 36,000 votes since primary day, while Jacobs has added just 22,000.

Jacobs has already won the contest to replace Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), who resigned before pleading guilty to insider trading. But this was the congressional seat in which Trump performed the best among all 27 New York districts in 2016 — he carried it by 25 points — and it looks as though the GOP might manage to hold on to it by only single digits. That’s not exactly a great omen.

Thus far, this is the only federal special election since the vote-by-mail debate really kicked off amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. But it presages what could be a rough fall for Republicans as the president repeatedly rails against the alleged dangers — unsubstantiated — posed by mail-in votes while trying to make a distinction without a difference between them and absentee ballots, which he himself has used to vote in Florida

The mail-in ballot issue is on the front burner because of the pandemic, which is spreading dangerously throughout the country and may or may not be worse in November. Some voters and poll workers, especially older ones, may be concerned about showing up physically to the polls, where the virus can spread more easily, on Election Day.

The New York results mirror absentee ballot applications, polls and results in other states that have voted recently. 

We don't yet have good data about absentee voting from runoffs last night in Alabama — where Trump nemesis Jeff Sessions lost to Tommy Tuberville in the GOP primary — and Texas, or in the Maine primary to face Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). (Sara Gideon won.)

New CBS News-YouGov polls this week in three battleground states Trump won in 2016 — Arizona, Florida and Texas — showed significant Democratic advantages among people who were planning to vote by mail. In Arizona, 80 percent of Democrats said they planned to vote by mail, while just 47 percent of Republicans said the same. In Florida, it was 56 percent to 28 percent, respectively. And in Texas, it was 39 percent to 15 percent.

It’s not unusual for Democrats to have an advantage in voting by mail, but not to this extent. And the CBS polls reinforced that.

The polls also asked not just how people plan to vote this year but also how they usually cast their ballots. In Arizona, the number of Democrats who usually vote by mail was 64 percent, but it increased to 80 percent for those who plan to do so in this election. In Florida, 38 percent said they usually vote by mail, compared with 58 percent this time. And in Texas, the number jumped from 11 percent usually to 39 percent in 2020.

The GOP, by contrast, saw no such increases in plans to vote by mail, and interestingly, the polls suggest some GOP voters might be less likely to vote by mail this time. In Arizona, while 51 percent of Republicans said they usually vote by mail, the number dropped to 47 percent when it came to people’s plans for this year. In Florida, the number was 29 percent generally but 28 percent for this election. There was a slight uptick in interest in voting by mail among Texas Republicans, from 5 percent usually to 15 percent today, but nothing like the increase on the Democratic side.

It’s important to note that people may misrepresent their voting history or their plans for voting in 2020. But it’s clear that, according to the voters themselves in key states, this has become a yawning gap.

And that gap was confirmed this week by GOP pollster Glen Bolger, who said his polling of an undetermined swing state showed an even bigger chasm.

Yikes -- just finished a statewide survey in a swing state,” Bolger tweeted Monday. “The quarter of the voters who plan to vote by mail or absentee break 15% Trump/75% Biden on the Pres. ballot. Republicans are skeptical about voting by mail, and that's a problem up and down ballot.

Practically speaking, it’s not clear how that might pan out in actual elections. But New York’s special contest isn’t the only recent example of Democratic mail-in voting surging in a way the GOP isn't matching.

In Oklahoma’s June 30 primary, for example, Democratic absentee votes increased from 4,400 in a 2014 Senate primary to 12,400 in the 2018 gubernatorial primary to nearly 57,000 in this year’s Senate primary. That’s nearly 13 times the number of absentee votes compared with the last time the same Senate seat was up six years ago.

The GOP has also seen an increase, but of nowhere near this magnitude. It went from 8,900 absentee votes in 2014 to 15,300 in 2018 and 33,800 today — about four times the total from the previous primary for the same Senate seat six years ago.

In total, absentee votes accounted for 3 percent of total votes in each party’s primaries in both 2014 and 2018. But in 2020, absentees accounted for 21 percent of Democratic votes, compared with 9 percent of GOP votes.

These numbers echo the gaps in primary absentee ballot requests that were detailed last week by Gardner and Dawsey in states like Georgia, Kentucky and Virginia. And the same dynamic is at play in Florida, where the GOP previously held an edge in absentee votes — including in 2016 — but where Democrats now have a sizable edge, 1.6 million to 1.2 million.

The question is how much this all matters in November — both in the presidential race and congressional contests. 

Republicans who are less concerned than Bolger have argued Democrats are merely cannibalizing voters who would otherwise just turn out to vote in person. Particularly in states that have robust early voting, the partisan mix of absentee votes is perhaps less of a concern. And data have suggested that voting by mail doesn’t necessarily give one side or another a measurable edge.

That said, this election provides an unprecedented X-factor: the coronavirus. If the outbreak looms into November in key states, turning out to vote in person may not be as attractive, and banking votes via mail-in ballots may prove more important. That said, Republicans are generally less concerned about the virus than Democrats, and they might be willing to turn out to vote in person in a way Democrats won’t.

Either way, the debate speaks to the importance of Democrats banking as many mail-in votes as they can, which virtually all signs suggest they are doing in a way Republicans aren’t.

What’s clear is that it’s a dynamic well worth watching — and one that is clearly worrying plenty of Republicans.

More on the elections

Sessions lost the GOP runoff election in Alabama to football coach Tuberville. 

Just five years ago, Sessions, then a senator from Alabama, became the first Republican senator to endorse Trump’s presidential campaign. “That once remarkable bond came to a crashing end Tuesday night when the Associated Press declared that Tuberville had defeated Sessions in the runoff to be the Republican nominee in November’s Senate race against Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.). The result culminated four months of Trump imploring Alabama’s voters to reject Sessions, the man who the president once said he leaned on for advice in forming his ‘America First’ agenda,” Paul Kane and Toluse Olorunnipa report. “Running for his old Senate seat — which he abandoned in early 2017 to become Trump’s attorney general — Sessions endured one brutal insult after another from the president. … 

“Trump chose not to rub too much salt into Sessions’s wounds Tuesday night, but he quickly hailed Tuberville’s victory. ‘Tommy Tuberville WON big against Jeff Sessions. Will be a GREAT Senator for the incredible people of Alabama,’ Trump tweeted. … [Tuberville’s] victory was declared quickly — a final humiliation for Sessions, who was once so untouchable that Alabama Democrats didn’t field an opponent against him in his 2014 reelection. … Emerging from casting his own ballot Tuesday morning, Sessions made one final, almost sad, assertion that he would be a Trump purist if he won his old seat back, noting that several staunch conservatives had overcome the president’s endorsement of other candidates in recent weeks.” 

Air Force veteran MJ Hegar will challenge Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) in November. 

“Hegar, whose biography helped her nearly win a congressional seat in 2018, was long considered the favorite, but a late charge from state Sen. Royce West forced outside groups backing Hegar to pour money into the race to get her over the finish line,” Paul Kane and Colby Itkowitz report. “Also in Texas, former White House physician Ronny L. Jackson won the nomination to replace Rep. Mac Thornberry (R) in one of the most conservative districts in the nation. … Pete Sessions, who had been in the House for 22 years before losing in the Democratic wave of 2018, won the chance to compete to return to Congress. Rather than run for his old seat in the suburbs of Dallas, Sessions moved 100 miles south to run in a more conservative district. He failed to win the primary outright, facing Renee Swann, a political outsider who was backed by the district’s current congressman, retiring Rep. Bill Flores (R), in Tuesday’s runoff. The Republican runoff to replace retiring Rep. Will Hurd (R) in a Texas district Democrats believe is within reach was still too close to call.” 

In Maine, state House Speaker Gideon won the Democratic primary and will face Collins. Millions of dollars have already poured into that race, both to the Democrat’s coffers and from outside groups eager to oust Collins. 

Republican Rep. Steve Watkins of Kansas was charged with three felonies in connection to a voter fraud investigation. 

“Watkins was charged with three felony counts in Shawnee County, Kan., late Tuesday, nearly eight months after a newspaper investigation found that he listed the location of a UPS Store as his address for voting purposes on government forms,” Elise Viebeck and David Weigel report. “Watkins, a freshman Republican from Topeka, faces two felony charges related to unlawful voting and one related to interference with law enforcement and providing false information, according to a news release from Shawnee County District Attorney Michael F. Kagay. The charges stem from a 2019 local election, the release stated. The case emerged after an investigation of a Topeka Capital-Journal report from December, which stated that Watkins may have committed felony voter fraud by allegedly misstating his address on a voter change-of-residency form. … With just three weeks until his primary, Watkins shrugged off the announcement Tuesday, calling the errors an innocent mistake and saying he looks forward to ‘setting the record straight.’ ‘This is clearly hyper-political,’ he said during a televised debate that began shortly after news broke about the charges. ‘I haven’t done anything wrong.’”

Trump used an event at the Rose Garden for an extended campaign-like attack on Joe Biden. 

“Trump lambasted Biden’s record on Beijing, casting [him] as soft on China during its rise to become the second-largest economy in the world. He faulted Biden for initially opposing his administration’s decision to shut down some flights from China over the coronavirus, and he inaccurately stated that Biden ‘sided with China’ on its handling of the pandemic — even though Biden had sounded alarms months ago as Trump was still praising Chinese President Xi Jinping. … Trump didn’t stop there, adding an attack on Biden’s son Hunter,” David Nakamura, Toluse Olorunnipa and Philip Rucker report.

“Trump dumped almost an hour’s worth of opposition research against his Democratic rival with less than four months to go before the election, hitting him over immigration, energy policy and the environment. ‘There’s probably never been a time when candidates are so different,’ Trump said. … The president said he had asked some of his ‘people’ for a list of Biden’s platform issues before proceeding to read out several liberal policy proposals. The list mirrored a lengthy Twitter thread posted last week by Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr., in which he described the ‘Biden-Sanders’ agenda as ‘insane.’ Much of Trump’s summary of Biden’s policy proposals was false or misleading.”

The Rose Garden event was meant to mark Trump’s signing of a bill to punish China over Hong Kong. 

“The bill Trump signed, which unanimously passed Congress last week, imposes sanctions on China over its ongoing crackdown on Hong Kong, where officials have imposed a sweeping national security law that allows Beijing to target political opponents in the once-autonomous city. Under the new standard, Hong Kongers who are deemed guilty of ‘subversion’ face a possible life sentence in prison — the same as political dissidents in mainland China,” Colby Itkowitz reports. “Trump also issued an executive order ending the United States’ longtime preferential treatment of Hong Kong, saying it would now be treated the same as mainland China with regard to economic and other issues.'

Meanwhile, Biden shared a new $2 trillion climate plan. 

“The plan would significantly reduce the United States’ reliance on fossil fuels, and the 15-year timeline for a 100 percent clean electricity standard is far more ambitious than anything Biden has previously proposed. It was Biden’s latest attempt to channel the liberal energy in his party, as well as a response to calls for sweeping plans to lift a struggling economy. The blueprint was quickly hailed by environmentalists and liberals as a big step forward in the climate effort, and just as quickly denounced by Republicans as an unwieldy plan that would raise energy costs,” Matt Viser and Dino Grandoni report. “The Trump campaign was quick to go after Biden’s proposal Tuesday. ‘His plan is more like a socialist manifesto that promises to massively raise taxes, eliminate jobs in the coal, oil or natural gas industries, and crush the middle class,’ said Hogan Gidley, the campaign’s national press secretary.” 

The coronavirus

The global surge in coronavirus cases is being fed by the developing world — and the U.S., with its 3,410,000 cases. 

“Poorer nations throughout Latin America, the Middle East, South Asia and Africa are bearing a growing share of the caseload, even as wealthier countries in Western Europe and East Asia enjoy a relative respite after having beaten back the worst effects through rigorously enforced lockdowns. And then there’s the United States, which leads the world in new cases and, as with many nations that possess far fewer resources, has shown no sign of being able to regain control,” Griff Witte, Mary Beth Sheridan, Joanna Slater and Liz Sly report. “The severity of the toll on the United States was evident in new infection figures released Tuesday, with multiple states — including Oklahoma and Nevada — hitting record highs. Florida has now reported more cases in the past week — nearly 78,000 — than most European nations have in their entire struggle with covid-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. 

“That sort of explosive growth is mirrored in other nations, though none with the sort of wealth, infrastructure and scientific know-how of the United States. Across much of the developing world, rampant coronavirus outbreaks came relatively late. But now that the virus has taken root, governments are flailing in their attempts to halt it and citizens are resisting changes to their way of life. … The struggle has been especially fraught in Latin America, where countries have been lashed by covid-19’s ferocity and many have not yet hit their peaks. Brazil has the second-highest number of covid-19 deaths in the world, at more than 74,000, while Mexico has the fourth-highest, with more than 37,000. (The United States, with at least 133,000 deaths, is far and away the global leader.)”

Starting today, a new data reporting protocol for hospitals will eliminate the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a recipient of state coronavirus data. The administration is instead encouraging governors to use the National Guard to collect this data, Lena Sun and Amy Goldstein report. The move leaves health-care institutions to report information daily to a federal contractor or to their state, which would coordinate the federal reporting. Public experts say bypassing the CDC could harm the quality of data and the federal response to the pandemic. 

The first vaccine tested in the U.S. boosted people’s immune systems just the way scientists hoped it would. 

“‘No matter how you slice this, this is good news,’ [said] Anthony Fauci,” the AP reports. “The experimental vaccine, developed by Fauci’s colleagues at the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., will start its most important step around July 27: A 30,000-person study to prove if the shots really are strong enough to protect against the coronavirus. But Tuesday, researchers reported anxiously awaited findings from the first 45 volunteers who rolled up their sleeves back in March. Sure enough, the vaccine provided a hoped-for immune boost. Those early volunteers developed what are called neutralizing antibodies in their bloodstream — molecules key to blocking infection — at levels comparable to those found in people who survived COVID-19, the research team reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.” 

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro attacked Fauci in an op-ed for USA Today, part of a continuing campaign against the doctor by Trump and his allies. “Dr. Anthony Fauci has a good bedside manner with the public, but he has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on,” Navarro wrote. “So when you ask me whether I listen to Dr. Fauci’s advice, my answer is: only with skepticism and caution.”

In response to White House attacks, Fauci said the public can trust him. “I believe, for the most part, you can trust respected medical authorities,” Fauci said during a Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service event. “I believe I’m one of them, so I think you can trust me.”

Former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Joseph Dunford Jr. won’t chair a coronavirus spending panel. Dunford Jr. removed himself from consideration to chair the Congressional Oversight Commission, a key mechanism created by Congress that is supposed to scrutinize coronavirus spending, Erica Werner reports. The reasons for his withdrawal were unclear, but the decision is a major setback for the commission and efforts to find someone to lead it. Under the coronavirus stimulus legislation, the chair of the bipartisan five-member commission must be appointed jointly by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).  

Quote of the day

“We don’t want CDC guidance to be a reason why people don’t reopen their schools,” said Vice President Pence during a roundtable discussion at Louisiana State University, where he emphasized the Trump administration’s position that schools at all levels need to open this fall. (Des Bieler

The Trump administration backed off a plan that would’ve required international students to take face-to-face classes. 

“The abrupt reversal, disclosed in a federal court in Boston, came a little more than a week after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued an edict that stunned U.S. higher education leaders and students worldwide,” Nick Anderson and Susan Svrluga report. “Under the July 6 policy from ICE, international students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities for the fall semester faced a mandate to take at least one course in person. Those students, ICE said, ‘may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States.’ That mandate posed a major obstacle to plans for online teaching and learning that colleges are developing in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. In the spring, the federal government had given schools much more leeway to teach international students online. Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had sued to block the new policy. In a hearing in that case on Tuesday, held before U.S. District Judge Allison D. Burroughs, the judge announced that the schools and the federal government had reached an agreement that made the lawsuit moot.” 

A new White House ad campaign tells 18 million unemployed workers that maybe they just have to “Find Something New.” 

“Ivanka Trump urged out-of-work Americans to ‘find something new’ Tuesday as part of a new jobs initiative designed to tout the benefits of skills training and career paths that don’t require a college degree. But the effort — complete with a website, advertising campaign and virtual roundtable featuring Apple CEO Tim Cook and IBM chair Ginni Rometty — was swiftly derided on social media as ‘clueless’ and ‘tone-deaf’ given the pandemic, recession and Trump’s own familial employment history,” Hamza Shaban reports. “The nation currently has 5.4 million job openings, according to the Labor Department, which is not nearly enough for the roughly 18 million Americans who are officially unemployed and the 33 million who are currently receiving unemployment benefits. Many saw the campaign as insensitive given the suffering of Americans whose livelihoods disappeared as the pandemic forced companies to shutter or sharply curtail operations. And for many, Ivanka Trump — the daughter of a billionaire and a multimillionaire in her own right — is the wrong person to speak to the challenges of finding a job.”

Faulty data collection has raised questions about the administration’s Paycheck Protection Program claims. 

“A Post analysis of data on 4.9 million loans released last week by the Small Business Administration shows that many companies are reported to have ‘retained’ far more workers than they employ. Likewise, in some cases the agency’s jobs claim for entire industries surpasses the total number of workers in those sectors. And for more than 875,000 borrowers, the data shows that zero jobs were supported or no information is listed at all, according to the analysis,” Jonathan O’Connell, Emma Brown, Steven Rich and Aaron Gregg report. “The flaws raise questions about the claims by the Trump administration that 51 million jobs were ‘supported’ by the [PPP].”

The federal stockpile is thinning out amid the case surge.

“The federal government may not have the capacity to supply medical professionals with personal protective equipment amid the latest surge in coronavirus cases, according to internal administration documents,” NBC News reports. “For example, the Strategic National Stockpile and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have fewer than 900,000 gloves in reserve after shipping 82.7 million of them — or just 30 percent of the amount requested by state, local and tribal governments — since the COVID-19 crisis began. … Nonetheless, Adm. John Polowczyk, the chief supply-chain official for the White House coronavirus task force, maintained in an interview with NBC News on Tuesday that the supply situation is ‘just not that dire.’”

  • Texas hospitals are running out of drugs, beds, ventilators and staff. Some hospitals in South Texas say they’re dangerously close to filling up, while hospitals elsewhere in the state are bracing themselves for cases to continue rising. (Texas Tribune)
  • Arizona tallied an all-time high in covid-19 hospitalizations, ICU beds in use and confirmed coronavirus deaths. (Arizona Republic)
  • At least 31 percent of children tested in Florida have the virus. About 17,000 of Florida’s roughly 287,000 cases have been people younger than 18. (Sun-Sentinel)
The governors of Virginia and Maryland moved to enforce restrictions as cases tick upward in the region.

“The seven-day average of new infections in the District, Maryland and Virginia increased for an eighth consecutive day Tuesday, jumping to 1,421 — about where the region stood last month before shutdown restrictions for nonessential businesses were further loosened. The region’s largest daily caseloads of the past month have occurred in the past five days,” Antonio Olivo, Dana Hedgpeth, Erin Cox and Ovetta Wiggins report. “Gov. Ralph Northam (D) took more aggressive steps to control the virus from spreading further. He is ordering inspectors to make unannounced visits to restaurants and retail establishments, and then revoking their licenses if workers aren’t wearing masks or customers are allowed to congregate in tight spaces. … Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) urged local leaders across his state to take bolder steps to enforce physical distancing and mask requirements for bars and restaurants.” 

  • Rep. H. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.), a Freedom Caucus member who days ago urged schools to reopen in the fall, tested positive for the virus. Griffith, 62, said he’s feeling fine. (Laura Vozzella)
  • Arlington Public Schools is scrapping a plan to offer in-person and virtual learning this fall and will instead require that its 28,000 students start school fully online. (Hannah Natanson)

Other news that should be on your radar

Asked about police brutality against black Americans, Trump said “more white people” are being killed. 

“During an interview with CBS News, the president also said he views the flying of the Confederate flag as an issue of freedom of speech, without offering his own feelings about a symbol that for many represents the country’s racist past and history of slavery,” Felicia Sonmez reports. “‘All I say is, freedom of speech,’ Trump said when asked about the flag. ‘It’s very simple. … Well, people love it and I don’t view — I know people that like the Confederate flag, and they’re not thinking about slavery.’ … In the interview with CBS News’s Catherine Herridge, Trump called George Floyd’s death ‘terrible.’ But he appeared to dismiss the notion that systemic racism is a problem in U.S. law enforcement. ‘Why are African Americans still dying at the hands of law enforcement in this country?’ Herridge asked Trump. ‘And so are white people,’ he replied. ‘So are white people. What a terrible question to ask. So are white people — more white people, by the way. More white people.’” Black people are fatally shot by police at a higher rate than white people, per a Post analysis.  

Mary Trump said her uncle was taught to view people as “expendable.”

In an interview with ABC News, the president’s niece — freed from a gag order that stopped her from talking about her family and fresh from publishing her tell-all book — said Trump grew up in a “dysfunctional” family, creating a “dangerous situation” for America once he was elected president. “It’s impossible to know who Donald might have been” had he been born into a different family, Mary Trump said. His father, Fred, was a “sociopath” who taught his kids to view people as “expendable” and to do anything to “win.” 

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was hospitalized for a possible infection. 

“Ginsburg, 87, is the court’s oldest member, and her health has been a recurring public topic and source of both speculation and concern. In a statement Tuesday afternoon, the court said Ginsburg had been experiencing fever and chills on Monday, so she was initially taken to Sibley Memorial Hospital in the District that night. On Tuesday afternoon, she was given an endoscopic procedure ‘to clean out a bile duct stent that was placed last August,’ the court said,” Mark Berman reports. “Ginsburg will stay in the hospital to receive intravenous antibiotics, the court said, adding that she was ‘resting comfortably.’” 

Internal USPS memos detail ‘difficult’ changes, including slower mail delivery. 

“The new head of the U.S. Postal Service established major operational changes Monday that could slow down mail delivery, warning employees the agency would not survive unless it made ‘difficult’ changes to cut costs. But critics say such a philosophical sea change would sacrifice operational efficiency and cede its competitive edge to UPS, FedEx and other private-sector rivals,” Jacob Bogage reports. “Postmaster General Louis DeJoy told employees to leave mail behind at distribution centers if it delayed letter carriers from their routes, according to internal USPS documents obtained by The Post. … The memo cited U.S. Steel, a onetime industry titan that was slow to adapt to market changes, to illustrate what is at stake. ‘In 1975 they were the largest company in the world,’ the memo states. ‘They are gone.’ (U.S. Steel is a $1.7 billion company with 27,500 employees.)”

Social media speed read

During his Rose Garden rant, Trump mentioned that Biden is, among other things, trying to get rid of windows: 

Jeff Sessions accepted defeat while surrounded by his family: 

The first lady encouraged Americans to wear masks: 

And the president’s daughter and adviser encouraged Americans to buy canned beans after Goya’s president praised Trump:  

The tweet raised ethics issues, since executive branch employees aren’t allowed to use their public office “for the endorsement of any product.” 

Videos of the day

Eight people suffered severe eye injuries at protests across the country on May 30 after being struck by police projectiles:

Of those eight, six were protesters, one was a photojournalist, and another was a passerby. In three instances, video evidence undermines official accounts of what happened.

Stephen Colbert took a look at Republicans’ excuses not to go to the convention in Jacksonville, Fla: 

And Seth Meyers said that Roger Stone’s plans to write a book on the Russia investigation may mark the first time he “actually completes a sentence”: