The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Daily 202: With Romney’s support, McConnell clinches a confirmation vote for Supreme Court nominee

with Mariana Alfaro

President Trump has not announced his pick to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the late justice will not be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery until next week, but Senate Republicans keep falling in line – sight unseen. It has now become a matter of when, not if, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will schedule a floor vote for Trump’s third nominee to the Supreme Court. 

As congressional Democrats come to terms with the reality that they cannot stop them, the White House has grown increasingly confident about being able to confirm a new justice before Election Day, instead of waiting until the lame-duck session. This could become pivotal if significant voting-related litigation, a la Bush v. Gore, winds up back before the high court.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) announced Tuesday that he supports considering whomever Trump nominates. “My decision regarding a Supreme Court nomination is not the result of a subjective test of ‘fairness’ which, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder,” he said in a statement. “It is based on the immutable fairness of following the law, which in this case is the Constitution and precedent. The historical precedent of election year nominations is that the Senate generally does not confirm an opposing party’s nominee but does confirm a nominee of its own.”

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said on Sept. 22 that he supports voting on a Supreme Court nominee in 2020. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

This comes after Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), one of only two GOP incumbents up for reelection this fall in a state Trump lost in 2016, announced on Monday night that he will vote to confirm a “qualified” Trump nominee. Four Republican senators would need to break ranks to derail a pre-election nomination process, and this morning’s news means that it’s likely to be only two: Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), who is the only other Republican up for reelection in a state Trump lost last time, and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska). Both Collins and Murkowski say they support abortion rights.

Judge Merrick Garland’s shabby treatment when President Barack Obama nominated him to replace the late justice Antonin Scalia in 2016 will cast a shadow over the Senate for decades to come, but few Senate Republicans show any hint of remorse for their hypocrisy. While many senators twist themselves into pretzels to explain flip-flopping as a somehow principled position, Trump himself made no pretense that this is about anything other than cold, hard power. “President Obama did not have the Senate,” the president said Monday on Fox News. “When you have the Senate – when you have the votes – you can, sort of, do what you want.”

One of the most jarring dynamics at play is that it has now been six months since the Senate passed a coronavirus relief bill to mitigate the worst public health crisis since 1918 and worst economic crisis since 1933. But the chamber can quickly kick into high gear to fill a Supreme Court vacancy. That says something about institutional priorities, which is to say that dealing with the contagion that has killed more than 200,000 Americans is not their highest priority. The markets tanked on Monday because investors realized the court vacancy means another covid-19 bill probably will not pass anytime soon.

“We’ve got the votes to confirm Justice Ginsburg’s replacement before the election,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He told Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Monday night: “The nominee is going to be supported by every Republican in the Judiciary Committee, and we’ve got the votes to confirm the judge … on the floor of the Senate before the election.”

McConnell has not given a timeframe for holding a vote, except that it will happen before the end of the year, but Trump told reporters on Monday that he would “much rather have a vote before the election.” Trump said he will “probably” announce his selection on Saturday. Ginsburg will lie in repose at the Supreme Court on Wednesday and Thursday. She will lie in state Friday at the Capitol, the first woman ever to be honored in that way in U.S. history. Her burial service at Arlington next week will be private.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) had Graham’s gavel four years ago and got behind McConnell’s blockade of Garland, but he gave it up so that he could chair the Finance Committee, which writes the tax code. In an interview with Fox News in 2018, Grassley said he would not allow a hypothetical Supreme Court vacancy to be filled during 2020 “if I’m chairman.” But he noted on Monday that he is no longer chairman and therefore defers to Graham.

Grassley’s move gives air cover for Iowa’s junior GOP senator, Joni Ernst, to buck public pressure to stay true to the standard she set in 2016. A new Des Moines Register Iowa Poll released this morning shows that Trump and Joe Biden are locked in a dead head six weeks from the election, tied at 47 percent among likely voters. This is notable because Trump carried the Hawkeye State by 9 points last time. This latest Register poll also shows Ernst slightly trailing Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield, which has prompted the GOP incumbent to tie herself closer than ever to Trump.

Right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh is urging McConnell to bypass the Judiciary Committee altogether and not even bother holding a hearing to consider whomever Trump picks. He explained that this would spare the nominee from needing to answer tough questions from liberals. “We don't want to give Kamala Harris the opportunity to grandstand in that committee,” said Limbaugh, referring to the Democratic vice-presidential nominee.

“It’s become a tradition, but it's not a requirement,” said Limbaugh, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Trump during this year’s State of the Union address. “And since Trump has already driven them crazy, … why not just blow up another tradition? … They have to be defeated. This Supreme Court seat has to be confirmed … before the election. … That could be great if it were skipped. We don't need to open that up for whatever length of time, so that whoever this nominee is can be Kavanaughed, or Borked or Thomased. … When the vote count is assured, Mitch McConnell needs to take it straight to the floor.”

That’s not going to happen. But conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt got GOP Sens. Rick Scott (Fla.), Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.) and Ted Cruz (Tex.) to say on his show this morning that they support holding the final vote before Election Day.

The momentum appeared to grow behind Judge Amy Coney Barrett of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, who met with Trump at the White House on Monday,” Seung Min Kim, Josh Dawsey and Robert Costa report. “But Trump aides and allies continue to push other candidates, with Judge Barbara Lagoa of the 11th Circuit considered the other top contender. … Two Trump advisers said the president told others on Monday that he was leaning toward Barrett because it would help with his base, particularly evangelical voters. One official pushing that perspective is White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. … Barrett has other powerful backers within the White House, with counsel Pat Cipollone among her boosters and Vice President Pence — who, like Barrett, hails from Indiana — advocating for her internally. She served as a clerk for the late Justice Antonin Scalia and could boost support for Trump among Catholics in critical swing states such as Pennsylvania this fall. …

“McConnell has made it clear to the White House that while he will advocate for any nominee that Trump puts forward, the majority leader views Barrett as the best choice, according to several people briefed on his views. Sen. Todd C. Young (R-Ind.), who leads the Senate GOP’s campaign arm, is also lobbying for a Barrett nomination. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) has said publicly that he will only support a nominee who believes Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that legalized access to abortion, was incorrectly decided. He said Monday that Barrett ‘clearly meets that threshold that I’ve talked about.’

But some advisers to the president are concerned that nominating Barrett will drive the focus of the last weeks of the presidential election to abortion, galvanizing the left and ultimately hurting the president’s prospects in November. ‘If we are talking about abortion and Roe v. Wade for the next six weeks, that’s not a good thing,’ one senior Republican said. ‘We will lose.’ In turn, Meadows has been privately advising against Lagoa amid concerns that the Florida jurist and other front-runner for the Ginsburg vacancy is not sufficiently conservative in her opinions. … A number of Trump aides, allies and senators met in the office of Jim DeMint, chairman of the Conservative Partnership Institute, on Monday night to discuss the nomination and how to confirm the nominee with the help of donors, outside support and the White House. … Among those present, Barrett was the favorite candidate.”

Trump told reporters that he is still considering five women, and it seems like some of the names are being floated to help him in battleground states. In addition to Lagoa in Florida, the president noted that another woman he is looking at is from Michigan. He didn’t name her, but sources said it’s Judge Joan Larsen. Trump aides are also floating Judge Allison Jones Rushing, emphasizing her ties to North Carolina, another swing state.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that the Senate should not fill the vacancy left by Ginsburg's death until the next president is elected. (Video: Reuters)

Even with just 42 days until the election, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) knows there is really nothing he can do to stop this nomination with Republicans this united. He used an impassioned floor speech on Monday to warn about the upper chamber’s descent into majoritarianism – “the end of this supposedly great deliberative body” – and highlighted GOP hypocrisy by quoting back to senators what they had said four years ago. Schumer asked rhetorically: “If a Senate majority over the course of six years steals two Supreme Court seats using completely contradictory rationales, how could we expect to trust the other side again? How can we trust each other if, when push comes to shove, when the stakes are the highest, the other side will double-cross their own standards when it’s politically advantageous?”

Top House Democrats and aides say they are not actually considering in any serious way trying to impeach Attorney General Bill Barr as a delay tactic, even though rank-and-file members continue to insist that this is a possibility, because Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) recognizes that it would look bitterly partisan and therefore backfire. “A small group of Democrats were privately more interested in holding a stopgap government funding bill hostage to try to get what the party wants. The government runs out of money at the end of the month, and lawmakers are trying to put the finishing touches on an agreement to keep the government running. Some have toyed with the idea of using the must-pass legislation as a negotiating leverage. But Pelosi during a Sunday interview panned the idea outright. And the idea would almost certainly blow back on Democrats politically,” Paul Kane and Rachael Bade report

Yet another group of Democrats wants to hear Senate Democratic leadership make some sort of ‘threat’ that will make Republicans think twice. Some have pushed for more talk of a possible Senate Democratic majority expanding the number of justices on the Supreme Court should they reclaim the upper chamber on Election Day. But Schumer hasn’t weighed in on that possibility, resorting to the same language of keeping all possibilities ‘on the table’ and arguing instead that voters need to give the chamber to Democrats for them to even viably consider the option.” 

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) said publicly what many of his Democratic colleagues will still only say privately: “My hope is that there will be enough Republicans to stop it, but I don’t think the likelihood of that is high.” To be sure, Democrats are staying unified so far in opposition to holding a vote for Trump’s pick. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who voted to confirm Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, announced that he will oppose a vote before the election. 

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Sept. 21 said “it’s about time” for the U.S. to elect a president who had not graduated from an Ivy League school. (Video: The Washington Post)

Biden did not even mention the vacancy at all during a half-hour campaign speech at an aluminum foundry in Wisconsin on Monday afternoon. Instead, he criticized Trump’s handling of the pandemic, touted the importance of labor unions and emphasized that he would be the first president in the modern era not to have an Ivy League degree. “I think it’s about time that a state school president sat in the Oval Office,” said Biden, who received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Delaware, which is tied for No. 97 on the U.S. News rankings of the country’s best schools.

It was the clearest sign yet of Biden’s belief that most voters are not animated by the divisive fight that is consuming many in Washington,” Annie Linskey and Matt Viser report. “In a call with Democratic congressional aides on Monday, Biden’s team urged them to connect the Supreme Court vacancy to broader issues such as health care and immigration. … One Biden adviser said over the weekend that the campaign was considering adding some nuance to Biden’s response that would not completely close the door to adding justices.”

During an interview that aired late Monday night on WBAY-TV in Green Bay, Biden demurred when asked whether he would consider adding more justices. “It’s a legitimate question, but let me tell you why I’m not going answer that question: Because it will shift the focus,” the former vice president said. “That’s what [Trump] wants. He never wants to talk about the issue at hand, and he always tries to change the subject. Let’s say I answer that question. Then the whole debate’s going to be about what Biden said or didn’t say.”

Ginsburg’s death brings new uncertainty to the battle over voting rights.

As Democrats and voting rights advocates seek to lower barriers to voting during the pandemic, the Supreme Court has largely deferred to local and state officials, showing a reluctance to upend rules close to the election,” Elise Viebeck and Ann Marimow report. “Legal experts disagree about whether the blizzard of election-related lawsuits this year makes it more or less likely that the Supreme Court could end up playing a role in determining the winner of the presidential race, as it effectively did after Florida’s election meltdown in 2000. The fact that key issues such as ballot postmarks and witness requirements are being hashed out now in lower courts makes the possibility more remote, some said. But others noted the massive increase in the number of Americans expected to vote by mail … and said possible errors by those voters will open the door to more lawsuits with potential to rise to the high court."

  • Mike Bloomberg has raised more than $16 million to pay the court fines and fees of nearly 32,000 Black and Hispanic Florida voters with felony convictions, an effort aimed at boosting turnout for Biden. The money will go to fund a program organized by the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. (Michael Scherer)
  • A top Philadelphia elections official warned that the state Supreme Court’s decision to reject ballots missing privacy envelopes could lead to “electoral chaos.” Lisa Deeley predicted that the decision could result in the statewide rejection of over 100,000 ballots – more than twice the margin of Trump’s 2016 victory in the Keystone State. (CBS News)
  • A federal judge ruled that absentee ballots in Wisconsin can be counted up to six days after the Nov. 3 election as long as they are postmarked by Election Day, meaning the outcome of the race in Wisconsin might not be known for several days after polls close. (AP)
  • A federal judge in New York blocked the U.S. Postal Service from instituting certain operational changes that could slow the delivery of election mail, saying the agency lacked “legitimate justifications” for initiatives enacted by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. Judge Victor Marrero ordered that the agency pre-approve all overtime hours from Oct. 26 through Nov. 6 and submit a plan for improving delivery times. (Jacob Bogage)
  • At least nine states have started proactively sending mail ballot applications or request forms to voters. By Sunday, about 20 states had started distributing actual ballots through the mail, according The Post’s 50-state voting guide.
  • D.C.’s poorest wards won’t have voting “supercenters,” despite confronting long lines during the June primary. Election officials are touting large-scale voting centers at Capital One Arena and Nationals Park, among others, but said they’ve been unable to find a suitable location east of the Anacostia River. (Michael Brice-Saddler and Fenit Nirappil
How it’s playing on the opinion page:
  • George Will: “The nation’s often ferocious political competition, although framed by the Constitution, should be lubricated by prudence, whereby ferocity is tempered by a statesmanlike refusal to exercise every power the Constitution grants.”
  • The Post’s Editorial Board: “Judicial term limits are the best way to avoid all-out war over the Supreme Court.”
  • Charles Lane: “We’re all living too long for lifetime Supreme Court seats to still make sense.”
  • Eugene Robinson: “Democrats, it’s time to get mad — and even.”
  • Catherine Rampell: “The GOP traded democracy for a Supreme Court seat and tax cuts. It wasn’t worth it.”
  • Dana Milbank: “What if President Biden abused power the way President Trump does?”
  • Michael Gerson: “A parting-shot Supreme Court nomination smacks of being a ruthless political game.”
  • Henry Olsen: “Packing the Supreme Court is a horrible idea. Democrats must reject it.”
  • Jennifer Rubin: “Our democracy has turned dangerously undemocratic.”
  • Randy Barnett: “On the bench, Justice Ginsburg was generous to ideological adversaries — like me.”

There's still a bear in the woods

A top-secret CIA assessment says Putin is “probably directing” an influence operation to denigrate Biden.

"On Aug. 31, the CIA published an assessment of Russian efforts to interfere in the November election in an internal, highly classified report called the CIA Worldwide Intelligence Review,” Josh Rogin reports. “CIA analysts compiled the assessment with input from the National Security Agency and the FBI, based on several dozen pieces of information gleaned from public, unclassified and classified intelligence sources. The assessment includes details of the CIA’s analysis of the activities of Ukrainian lawmaker Andriy Derkach to disseminate disparaging information about Biden inside the United States through lobbyists, Congress, the media and contacts with figures close to the president. … The CIA, NSA and FBI all declined to comment, but none of the three agencies disputed any of the details of this reporting. Details about the intelligence used to form the assessment have been withheld at the agencies’ request to protect sources and methods.”

One of Robert Mueller's top lieutenants says they “could have done more” to hold Trump accountable. 

A former top prosecutor on the special counsel's team, Andrew Weissmann, writes in a new tell-all book, “Where Law Ends,” that the group failed to fully investigate Trump’s financial ties and should have stated explicitly that they believed he obstructed justice, claiming that their efforts were limited by the ever-present threat of Trump disbanding their office and by their own reluctance to be aggressive. The team made sure its work was logged in a computer system so it would be preserved if Trump fired Mueller, but the pressure caused them to pull punches. “This sword of Damocles affected our investigative decisions, leading us at certain times to act less forcefully and more defensively than we might have,” Weissmann writes. “It led us to delay or ultimately forgo entire lines of inquiry, particularly regarding the president’s financial ties to Russia.”

“We still do not know if there are other financial ties between the president and either the Russian government or Russian oligarchs,” Weissmann writes. “We do not know whether he paid bribes to foreign officials to secure favorable treatment for his business interests, a potential violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act that would provide leverage against the president. We do not know if he had other Russian business deals in the works at the time he was running for president, how they might have aided or constrained his campaign, or even if they are continuing to influence his presidency.”

Matt Zapotosky and Spencer Hsu got a first look at the book and interviewed the former DOJ supervisor who now teaches at New York University School of Law: “He lays particular blame on Mueller’s top deputy, Aaron Zebley, for stopping investigators from taking a broad look at Trump’s finances and writes that he now wonders whether investigators had ‘given it our all.’ … Weissmann lambastes [Attorney General Bill] Barr for, among other things, giving the public a four-page summary of Mueller’s work before it was released publicly. … Mueller’s report was far more damning than that anodyne description. It was upon reading Barr’s description, he said, that he decided to write a book.

Weissmann is critical of Mueller for not stating plainly that he had concluded Trump obstructed justice, which Weissmann said the evidence showed. Weissmann said in an interview with The Washington Post that he told Mueller he would have stated that conclusion in the team’s final report. … More critically, Weissmann complains how he felt Mueller was wrong not to greenlight issuing a subpoena for Trump’s testimony and details how he personally pressed the special counsel to do so. The office also declined to compel testimony from the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., or even to seek an interview with daughter Ivanka Trump … 

Weissmann says his primary task was to lead the team, called Team M, that investigated former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort for financial crimes in hopes he’d become a useful witness. Another team, Team R, was tasked with exploring whether the Trump campaign had coordinated with Russia to influence the election, and another, Team 600, was tasked with exploring whether Trump had obstructed justice. Weissmann is critical of that latter team, saying an FBI agent assigned to it complained to him it was ‘pulling its punches and shooting down her views.’ And he alleges its leader, Michael Dreeben, confided in him that he would not have been so mealy-mouthed about saying the president had obstructed justice. ‘If you and I were in charge, this is not how it would read,’ Weissmann says Dreeben told him. … Mueller and Zebley did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Jim Quarles, who led the obstruction probe would exclaim, ‘Pardon me! Pardon me!’ as he walked through the halls — a dark joke about Trump dangling pardons to people they were investigating. He says the team joked about eventually becoming the subject of investigation itself, with [another prosecutor Jeannie] Rhee even remarking that if Trump won November’s election, ‘we all need to retain criminal lawyers.’ … [Weissmann also says that the lawyers in Trump’s own White House counsel’s office referred to the Oval Office as the reality free “Magic Kingdom.”]

Manhattan D.A. said Trump could hypothetically face charges for tax fraud and falsifying business records. 

The District Attorney's Office made a more pointed case for the legality of its grand jury subpoena for eight years of Trump's tax returns and related records, saying in a brief to an appeals court that news reports of misconduct alone justify such a wide-ranging review of business dealings. “The filing marks the first time the prosecutor has publicly suggested specific criminal charges — including falsifying business records and tax fraud — that could hypothetically apply, should the grand jury find evidence to support them," Shayna Jacobs reports“Cyrus Vance Jr.’s investigation includes alleged hush-money payments in 2016 to two women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump, as well as a ‘variety of business transactions,’ according to a filing by the office’s general counsel, Carey Dunne. The investigation ‘is based on information derived from public sources, confidential informants, and the grand jury process,’ according to the filing. … 

“Dunne wrote that ‘in particular,’ any false statements made to business partners, would-be lenders, insurers or tax authorities about Trump business properties — no matter where the properties were located — would be fair game for New York prosecutors if the statements were made from Trump Tower or the Trump Organization’s headquarters in Manhattan. False statements, Dunne wrote, could lead to criminal charges, including scheme to defraud, falsification of business records, insurance fraud and criminal tax fraud. The filing cites reporting by The Washington Post about Trump allegedly inflating the value of his properties to lenders and investors. It also noted reporting by the New York Times and public statements made by Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, who admitted to orchestrating the payments to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal. …

Even if Vance received the documents immediately, it is unlikely the contents would be made public through his office before the election in November. The subpoena was formally issued through a grand jury hearing evidence on the matter, and the panel’s proceedings are secret. The information contained in the records could become public in open court if charges are ever brought. It is also highly unlikely anyone would be charged in connection with the investigation before Nov. 3. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit is scheduled to hear arguments from both sides Friday. The Supreme Court may end up ultimately ruling again on the matter.”

Trump refused to fault Putin for the poisoning of a Russian opposition leader.

When a New York Times reporter asked “who do you think poisoned” Alexei Navalny, a critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump said “we’ll talk about that at another time.” Trump has largely avoided the issue of Navalny’s poisoning, saying earlier this month that the U.S. has seen “no proof” that he was actually poisoned. But the Germans and other Western allies say there is proof. (The Independent)

The coronavirus

The Pentagon used taxpayer money meant for masks and swabs to make jet engine parts and body armor.

“A $1 billion fund Congress gave the Pentagon in March to build up the country’s supplies of medical equipment has instead been mostly funneled to defense contractors and used for making things such as jet engine parts, body armor and dress uniforms,” Aaron Gregg and Yeganeh Torbati report. “The payments were made even though U.S. health officials believe there are still major funding gaps in responding to the pandemic. … The $1 billion fund is just a fraction of the $3 trillion in emergency spending that Congress approved earlier this year to deal with the pandemic. But it shows how the blizzard of bailout cash was — in some cases — redirected to firms that weren’t originally targeted for assistance. … Some defense contractors were given the Pentagon money even though they had already dipped into another pot of bailout funds, the Paycheck Protection Program. … Among the awards: $183 million to firms including Rolls-Royce and ArcelorMittal to maintain the shipbuilding industry; tens of millions of dollars for satellite, drone and space surveillance technology; $80 million to a Kansas aircraft parts business suffering from the Boeing 737 Max grounding.”  

America can’t seem to fix its N95 face mask shortage. Trump deserves a share of the blame.

When the country was short of ventilators, the companies that made them shared their trade secrets with other manufacturers. Through the powers of the Defense Production Act, President Trump ordered General Motors to make ventilators. Other companies followed, many supported by the government, until the terrifying problem of not enough ventilators wasn’t a problem at all,” Jessica Contrera reports. “But for N95s and other respirators, Trump has used this authority far less, allowing major manufacturers to scale up as they see fit and potential new manufacturers to go untapped and underfunded. The organizations that represent millions of nurses, doctors, hospitals and clinics are pleading for more federal intervention, while the administration maintains that the government has already done enough and that the PPE industry has stepped up on its own. … The Department of Health and Human Services did fund the invention of a ‘one-of-a-kind, high-speed machine’ that could make 1.5 million N95s per day. But when the design was completed in 2018, the Trump administration did not purchase it. This year, as the virus spread from Wuhan to Washington state, HHS turned down a January offer from a manufacturer who could make millions of N95s. The agency didn’t start ordering N95s from multiple companies until March 21.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Sept. 21 its guidelines it posted on coronavirus airborne transmission were wrong. (Video: Reuters)
The CDC backtracked on its guidance that the virus spreads via airborne transmission. 

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday removed language from its website that said the coronavirus spreads via airborne transmission, the latest example of the agency backtracking from its own guidance,” Ben Guarino, Chris Mooney and Tim Elfrink report. “The agency said the guidance, which went up on Friday and largely went without notice until late Sunday, should not have been posted because it was an early draft. … Evidence that the virus floats in the air has mounted for months, with an increasingly loud chorus of aerosol biologists pointing to superspreading events in choirs, buses, bars and other poorly ventilated spaces. They cheered when the CDC seemed to join them in agreeing the coronavirus can be airborne. … The change on Monday was the third time the CDC posted coronavirus guidance or recommendations only to reverse its stance. … It was also the latest disorienting turn in a scientific debate with enormous public consequences for how we return to schools and offices.”

  • The NFL fined three head coaches $100,000 apiece for violating the league’s directive to wear masks on the sideline during games: Seattle’s Pete Carroll, San Francisco’s Kyle Shanahan and Denver’s Vic Fangio. Their teams were also fined $250,000 each. (Mark Maske)
  • Trump incorrectly claimed during his Ohio rally last night that covid-19 isn’t a risk for young people. “It affects elderly people, elderly people with heart problems and other problems. That’s what it really affects,” the president told a crowd of maskless supporters. “In some states, thousands of people — nobody young. Below the age of 18, like, nobody.” (Timothy Bella)
  • The director of Tulsa’s health department received a wave of abuse following Trump’s indoor rally. (Joshua Partlow
  • Having both the flu and covid-19 doubles your risk of death, British scientists warn in a new study. (Jennifer Hassan)
  • A third of states are still seeing new case numbers that are at least 75 percent of their peaks. The most recent 10,000 deaths were added in nine days, three fewer than the 10,000 deaths that preceded those. “It’s taken about 12 days on average for each of the last 10 10,000-death intervals, a fairly static death toll that keeps pushing higher,” Philip Bump reports.
An NIH press staffer will “retire” after being exposed as an anti-Fauci, anti-mask blogger.

William Crews, a public-affairs specialist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told officials he “will retire after the Daily Beast revealed he is also the managing editor of the conservative website, where, under the pseudonym ‘streiff,’ he has ridiculed the government’s activity against the coronavirus outbreak,” Lenny Bernstein, Elahe Izadi and Jeremy Barr report. “The Daily Beast reported that Crews, as ‘streiff.’ has called Fauci a ‘mask nazi,’ and implied that ‘government officials responsible for the pandemic response should be executed.’ … Other articles by ‘streiff’ include one calling the Democratic governor of Nevada a ‘mask-fetishist’ after Trump announced he would hold an indoor rally in defiance of state covid-19 restrictions.” 

The White House again shook up the HHS personnel office after a series of imbroglios.

“The Trump administration on Monday removed the top two liaisons between the White House and the health department, leaving HHS Secretary Alex Azar’s chief of staff as the de facto personnel chief,” Politico reports. “White House Liaison Emily Newman and her deputy Catherine Granito will be shifting full-time to the Voice of America's parent organization … Newman already has spent more than three months detailed to the global media agency as its chief of staff, which meant that Granito — an undergraduate at the University of Michigan as recently as this spring — had been in charge of the health department's personnel while playing a role in shaping policies in the middle of a pandemic. … Granito, who was in the class of 2020 at the University of Michigan, was involved in political appointees' recent scrutiny of CDC Deputy Director Anne Schuchat, a career civil servant. … 

“HHS senior officials have faulted the White House liaison's office for a series of personnel moves that have backfired amid the public health crisis, including the selection of longtime Republican communications aide Emily Miller as Food and Drug Administration chief spokesperson. Miller, who had no prior medical or scientific background, lasted 11 days in the role before she was shifted to a new position at FDA after clashes over the agency's communications approach. … The White House in early 2020 overhauled its presidential personnel office, installing college seniors and other young staff perceived as loyal to Trump in agencies around the government. The personnel office also oversaw a series of loyalty tests with political appointees across the federal government this summer."

The World Health Organization unveiled a plan to distribute the vaccine and urged for cooperation. 

Under the plan, rich and poor countries will pool money to provide manufacturers with volume guarantees for a slate of vaccine candidates in order to discourage hoarding and focus on vaccinating high-risk people in every participating country first. Sixty-four of those higher-income countries have signed up so far, WHO said, and 38 more are expected to do so in the coming days. Notably missing: Russia, China and the United States. (Emily Rauhala

  • A Chinese real estate tycoon who criticized Chinese President Xi Jinping's handling of the pandemic has just been sentenced to 18 years in prison. Ren Zhiqiang, 69, wrote an essay this February. Then the regime announced an investigation into him for corruption. Now he may spend the rest of his life behind bars. (Eva Dou)
  • Trump said his virtual speech to the U.N. General Assembly will strongly attack China and blame them for the pandemic. (Anne Gearan)
  • Prosecutors charged an NYPD and Army Reserve officer with working as a spy for China. Baimadajie Angwang, 33, was charged with illegally acting as a foreign agent, wire fraud and making false statements after authorities say he lied on official government forms about his contacts with China. "He is also accused of obstructing his national security background check, which officials allege helped conceal his spying efforts that began in 2014. He faces a maximum of 55 years if convicted,” Jacobs reports.
  • Eighty-three percent of Democrats believe that if the U.S. had cooperated more with other countries, the number of cases in the country would be lower. Just 27 percent of Republicans say the same, according to a new Pew Research Center poll.
  • The Lancet, one of the world’s most renowned medical journals, is making changes to its editorial process in the wake of a dust-up over the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat the coronavirus. In May, the journal published a study that claimed patients treated with the drug had a higher risk of heart problems and death, but critics quickly found flaws in the data. Three of the paper’s co-authors issued a retraction. (Antonia Farzan)
  • Britain could face 50,000 new cases a day by mid-October if it stays on its current trajectory, top government scientists warned. The grim forecast comes as the government is set to introduce a new round of restrictions. (Karla Adam)
D.C. has new criteria for its move to Phase 3. 

The list of 10 criteria includes some goals the city already has met, including a coronavirus test positivity rate below 3 percent and the ability to contact almost every new patient within a day of testing positive. D.C. is far from reaching other goals, especially a requirement that more than 60 percent of new cases be closely connected to other known cases — a metric that now stands at 6 percent,” Julie Zauzmer and Dana Hedgpeth report. “D.C. leaders say a move of the next reopening phase would allow public schools to reopen and additional capacity for activities already permitted. The new list eliminates a metric that had long been one of the city’s most prominent and questionable measures of coronavirus progress: community spread.

  • Chirping smoke detectors at students’ homes were disrupting virtual classes, so now D.C. firefighters are launching a campaign aimed at students and their families to remind them of the importance of having working smoke detectors at home. (Perry Stein)
  • Sidewalks, streets and parks provided a respite from closures. But winter is coming. Small-business owners and customers alike are now determined to take advantage of the final temperate days as vital resources of revenue and relief. (Emily Davies)
  • The pandemic has wrecked havoc on America’s debt-laden middle class. Before the virus, debt didn’t present a major problem because the job market was booming and median household incomes were rising. But now few industries have been spared by the economic collapse, and the unemployment benefits designed to replace the average American income didn’t cover all the lost pay of higher-earning workers. (WSJ)

Divided America

An unknown Idaho family organized the Trump rally that turned deadly in Portland.

The first time Alek Kyzik tweeted, two months ago, he invited Donald Trump Jr. to a pro-Trump rally he was hosting in Boise. ‘I would love to chat,’ he wrote in a public post on July 9 addressed to the president’s eldest son, who did not respond,” Isaac Stanley-Becker, Joshua Partlow and Carissa Wolf report. “The invitation was to a ‘cruise,’ the type of provocative show of force that would become Kyzik’s signature: a motor-rumbling, flag-waving caravan of cars and trucks endorsing Trump on the streets of liberal cities. The most recent cruise he hosted involved thousands of vehicles advancing on Portland, Ore. It ended with one participant shot dead. Kyzik was not well known in Republican activist circles. In fact, Kyzik was not even his real name … He is Alex Kuzmenko, a 33-year-old architect who lives in a second-story apartment in Meridian, a bedroom community outside the majority-Democratic city of Boise. … He and members of his family — immigrants from Belarus and Ukraine ­— had almost no political profile before organizing one of the most consequential pro-Trump demonstrations of the summer.

At Trump's direction, Bill Barr is trying to defund the police.

“The Justice Department on Monday labeled the cities of Portland, Ore., New York and Seattle as jurisdictions ‘that have permitted violence and destruction of property,’ targeting them for possible cuts in federal funding,” Devlin Barrett reports. "Following a memorandum that President Trump issued this month, the Justice Department published a list of cities where the White House wants to get more aggressive on civil unrest after police shootings and killings. ‘We cannot allow federal tax dollars to be wasted,’ (Barr) said in a statement. … The Trump administration was unsuccessful in a similar funding-cut move against New York and other cities over their immigration policies. A federal appeals court ruled that the move violated the separation of powers spelled out in the Constitution. … New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan — all Democrats — fired back in a joint statement, saying Trump ‘is playing cheap political games with Congressionally directed funds. . . . What the Trump Administration is engaging in now is more of what we’ve seen all along: shirking responsibility and placing blame elsewhere to cover its failure.’” 

  • The Louisville federal courthouse will close this week, which could signal that Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron (R) will announce this week whether three officers will be charged in the shooting death of Breonna Taylor. (Courier Journal)
  • The Louisville Metro Police Department announced a state of emergency as it prepares for unrest. (Wave3)
The White House moved ahead with naming a critic of dire climate predictions as the head of the NOAA. 

The White House has tapped Ryan Maue, a meteorologist who has challenged connections between extreme weather and climate change, to serve as the new chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,” Andrew Freedman and Jason Samenow report. “As chief scientist, Maue would be tasked with helping establish its oceans and atmosphere research priorities, as well as playing a role in enforcing its scientific integrity policy.”

The Bobcat fire threatened Los Angeles’ 116-year-old Mt. Wilson Observatory and forced more evacuations. It was the second time in a little over a decade that the gleaming white-domed observatory and its companion installations — including the towers that serve broadcast outlets and a variety of law enforcement and national security functions. The fire has grown to more than 105,000 acres and remains only 15 percent contained. (Los Angeles Times)

  • At least six men across Oregon have been accused of intentionally setting fires in recent weeks. One of them, Michael Jarrod Bakkela, was charged with setting a fire on Sept. 8 that damaged 15 properties and threatened the lives of 14 people in the state. (USA Today)
  • A firefighter killed in California’s El Dorado blaze was identified as Charles Morton, a 14-year veteran with the Forest Service. He was 39. (LAT)

Quote of the day

“God loves your children as they are,” Pope Francis told the parents of LGBTQ children. (America Magazine)

Social media speed read

Ohioans booed masks and their governor at a Trump rally: 

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) reported that a dead pigeon he found on his farm had come from Wisconsin:

And Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) responded to criticism from a GOP congressional nominee in Georgia who believes in the QAnon conspiracy theory:

Videos of the day

Seth Meyers said highlighting Republicans’ hypocrisy over the Supreme Court nomination is useless because “hypocrisy only matters if you have shame”: 

Stephen Colbert paid tribute to Ginsburg: 

Trevor Noah argued that Trump shouldn’t pick a new justice because he is clearly bad at hiring people, given all the folks who’ve left his administration: