with Mariana Alfaro

It is such a simple and fundamental question in a democracy, with such a heretofore plainly easy and obviously correct answer, that no reporter ever bothered to ask Presidents Barack Obama in 2012, George W. Bush in 2004 or Bill Clinton in 1996: Win or lose, will you commit to making sure that there’s a peaceful transfer of power?

But President Trump twice refused to make that commitment when pressed during a news conference on Wednesday evening. Instead, he baselessly cast doubt on the integrity of mail-in ballots and accused his opponents, also without evidence, of rampant fraud.

“Well, we are going to have to see what happens,” Trump said. “Get rid of the ballots, and you’ll have a very — we’ll have a very peaceful, there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There’ll be a continuation.”

This came on the same day that Trump predicted that the Supreme Court will be called upon to determine the winner of the presidential election and that whomever he nominates on Saturday to replace the late justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg might cast the decisive vote in his favor.

“I think this will end up in the Supreme Court. And I think it’s very important that we have nine justices,” Trump said. “It’s better if you go before the election, because I think this scam that the Democrats are pulling — it’s a scam — the scam will be before the United States Supreme Court. And I think having a 4-4 situation is not a good situation.”

Five of the justices were appointed by Republican presidents and three were appointed by Democrats so it is not clear what he means by 4-4 unless he is counting conservative Chief Justice John Roberts as part of the opposition. Roberts has consistently supported GOP stances on voting since his service in President Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department, including his landmark 2013 decision to invalidate a key section of the Voting Rights Act of 1964. Moreover, if there is an even split among the justices before the ninth seat is filled, the lower court’s ruling would stand.

Trump has spent months warning that the election will be “rigged” against him and complaining that the expansion of mail-in voting, amid the coronavirus pandemic, will doom his reelection hopes. At least 84 percent of American voters can cast ballots by mail in the fall. Data shows that states with universal mail voting have documented tiny rates of possible ballot fraud.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), the 2012 GOP nominee for president, voted to remove Trump from office earlier this year for abuse of power but said this week that he will vote to confirm a nominee by this president for the Supreme Court before the election. On Wednesday evening, Romney expressed alarm about Trump’s latest comments:

Other Republicans also signaled support for the peaceful transfer of power, even if Trump will not:

In late July, Trump floated postponing the November election amid the pandemic, but he quickly backed off when it became clear that congressional Republicans would not go along. The president has said recently that he should be able to serve a third term because he lost so much of his first term to defending himself amid the Russia investigations. He has joked that he would like to be “president for life” like China’s Xi Jinping. This is all part of a broader pattern: Scholars warn that the United States is backsliding into autocracy under Trump. “The only way they can take this election away from us is if this is a rigged election,” Trump said during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, which was one month ago today.

We’ve seen this movie before. During the debate in 2016 that was moderated by “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace, Trump refused to say whether he would accept the election results. “I have to see,” he said. “I will keep you in suspense.” 

Even after Hillary Clinton conceded, though, Trump was a sore winner. Angry that he lost the popular vote by 2.9 million votes while winning the Electoral College, the president insisted into 2017 that 3.5 million undocumented immigrants had illegally cast ballots in California against him. There was never any evidence of this, and it never made any sense, but Trump created a commission to look for evidence of voter fraud. It failed to accomplish what he wanted and eventually disbanded.

One of the six topics Wallace has chosen to cover in the first debate next Tuesday night is the integrity of the election.

Trump’s state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for postelection maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states,” Bart Gellman reported on Wednesday in the Atlantic magazine. “According to sources in the Republican Party at the state and national levels, the Trump campaign is discussing contingency plans to bypass election results and appoint loyal electors in battleground states where Republicans hold the legislative majority. With a justification based on claims of rampant fraud, Trump would ask state legislators to set aside the popular vote and exercise their power to choose a slate of electors directly.”

A Trump campaign legal adviser told him that the push to appoint electors would be framed in terms of protecting the people’s will. “In Pennsylvania, three Republican leaders told me they had already discussed the direct appointment of electors among themselves, and one said he had discussed it with Trump’s national campaign,” he writes. “Republicans control both legislative chambers in the six most closely contested battleground states. Of those, Arizona and Florida have Republican governors, too. In Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, the governors are Democrats.”

The Atlantic story also reveals a Trump campaign battle plan to disqualify as many mail-in ballots as possible when they’re sent in: “During the primaries this spring, Republican lawyers did dry runs for the November vote at county election offices around the country. An internal memo prepared by an attorney named J. Matthew Wolfe for the Pennsylvania Republican Party in June reported on one such exercise. Wolfe, along with another Republican lawyer and a member of the Trump campaign, watched closely but did not intervene as election commissioners in Philadelphia canvassed mail-in and provisional votes. Wolfe cataloged imperfections, taking note of objections that his party could have raised. There were missing signatures and partial signatures and signatures placed in the wrong spot. There were names on the inner security envelopes, which are supposed to be unmarked, and ballots without security envelopes at all. … He recommended that ‘someone connected with the party review each application and each mail ballot envelope’ in November.”

Nearly 500 retired senior military officers, as well as former Cabinet secretaries, service chiefs and other officials, have signed a new open letter in support of Joe Biden. “We are former public servants who have devoted our careers, and in many cases risked our lives, for the United States,” says the letter, published this morning by National Security Leaders for Biden. “We are generals, admirals, senior noncommissioned officers, ambassadors and senior civilian national security leaders. We are Republicans and Democrats, and Independents. We love our country. Unfortunately, we also fear for it.”

One of the signatories is retired Air Force Gen. Charles Boyd, the only former prisoner of war to have reached four-star rank. “I spent 36 years in the United States Air Force, almost seven of those as a prisoner of war in Vietnam,” Boyd says in a video that accompanies the letter. “Since my return, I’ve been a Republican, but quietly. I fervently believe that military officers should not be involved in presidential politics, even when retired. But this year is different. Donald Trump’s assault on the rule of law that makes a democracy possible has been so egregious I’ve decided to speak out. … We need to vote for Joe Biden this year. I’m going to vote for him. I hope you do, too.” 

Some in Trump’s orbit are privately questioning his rush to confirm a justice before Election Day, fretting that this will backfire by energizing the left more than the right. “Among some of the president’s advisers, jitters stem from a recent internal Republican poll discussed among officials in the White House and the Trump campaign this week that contained an alarming range of signs about the vacancy,” Rachael Bade, Josh Dawsey and Paul Kane report. “The poll — conducted over the weekend among about 1,500 likely voters in 17 swing states, including Arizona, Wisconsin, Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania — showed that 51 percent of voters said they trust Biden more than Trump to handle the vacancy, while only 43 percent said they trusted Trump. 

“The document also found that only 28 percent of the voters said they would be more likely to vote for Trump if a replacement is confirmed, while 38 percent said they would be less likely. And 52 percent said the Senate should hold hearings after the election, while 41 percent said it should hold hearings before the election. …

Some Republicans fear injecting abortion politics into the election with the choice of judge Amy Coney Barrett — a potential vote to overturn Roe v. Wade — which could be damaging for the president and Republican senators. Indeed, the GOP polling scrutinized by the White House showed that a majority of swing-state voters wanted a justice who supports abortion rights. … Campaign advisers also say they expect the Supreme Court pick could drive up turnout among evangelical and Catholic supporters, and the president has told advisers he believes that Democrats will overreach in the fight — giving him a target to mock. … Democrats argue that the renewed interest has bolstered their own fundraising, pointing to the more than $200 million that ActBlue, the party’s online fundraising platform for small-dollar donations, has raised since Ginsburg’s death Friday.”

A CNN-SSRS poll released Wednesday found that 59 percent of Americans say that the winner of the upcoming presidential election should be the one to fill the Supreme Court vacancy, including 17 percent of Republicans, 59 percent of independents and 97 percent of Democrats. A 38 percent plurality of the public says that Trump's choices for the court have changed it for the worse. And a 54 percent majority disapproves of the Senate's rules changes that have allowed Supreme Court nominees to move forward to a vote with the support from a simple majority.

The Supreme Court would be the most conservative it’s been since 1950 if Trump’s third justice gets confirmed, according to research from Georgetown professor Michael Bailey, and it would be the furthest it’s been ideologically from the other two branches in a long time. 

In the Senate, a ceremonial resolution honoring the life of Ginsburg failed after Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) objected. Cruz criticized Democrats for adding language that noted her dying wish had been for a successor not be chosen until after the presidential election.

During a Thursday memorial service across the street from the Senate, in the Supreme Court’s Great Hall, Roberts noted that Ginsburg wrote 483 opinions and dissents in her 27 years on the court. She also argued six cases there as a lawyer in the 1970s. “It has been said that Ruth wanted to be an opera virtuoso but became a rock star instead,” said the chief justice, who attended Harvard Law School with RBG’s daughter. “She found her stage right behind me in our courtroom.”

More on the voting wars

The Florida attorney general is calling for a criminal investigation into an effort to restore felons' voting rights. 

Ashley Moody (R) called for a state and federal criminal investigation into a Michael Bloomberg-backed initiative to spend at least $16 million to help felons pay off outstanding legal fines and fees so that they can be eligible to register to vote in November. “Florida voters passed a measure in 2018 to restore voting rights to felons who have not been convicted of murder or sexual offenses and who had completed their sentences. Republicans in the state legislature responded by passing a law in 2019 requiring those felons to pay any outstanding fines and fees to consider their sentence complete. Voting rights groups sued over the law, comparing it to a poll tax, but an appeals court earlier this month ruled the law was constitutional," NBC News reports. “Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) first raised the possibility of an investigation into the effort in an interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity on Tuesday night, saying he believed the attorney general may have been looking into it already.”

  • Barbara Lagoa, being considered by Trump for the Supreme Court vacancy, was one of the judges who backed the GOP’s position that making it harder for people to vote was constitutional.
  • Bloomberg spokesman Jason Schechter emails: “This transparent political ploy is just the latest example of Republicans attempting to keep Floridians disenfranchised.”
  • “A senior executive at the U.S. Postal Service delivered a PowerPoint presentation in July that pressed officials across the organization to make the operational changes that led to mail backups across the country, seemingly contradicting months of official statements about the origin of the plans,” Jacob Bogage reports. “David E. Williams, the agency’s chief of logistics and processing operations, listed the elimination of late and extra mail trips by postal workers as a primary agency goal during the July 10 teleconference. He also told the group that he wanted daily counts on such trips, which had become common practice to ensure the timely delivery of mail.”
  • Mail-in ballots from Black voters are more than twice as likely to be rejected as those from White voters in North Carolina, per a ProPublica and WRAL News analysis.
  • Texas Republicans are suing to stop Gov. Greg Abbott’s extension of an early voting period during the pandemic. (Texas Tribune)
  • Virginia already set a record for early voting turnout. (Laura Vozzella)
  • Another 870,000 new applications for unemployment insurance were processed last week, a slight increase from the week before, as unemployment claims remain stubbornly high six months into the pandemic. “That figure is up slightly from the 866,000 applications, processed the week before,” per Eli Rosenberg. “Another 630,000 people had new claims processed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, the program for self-employed and gig workers, down from 675,000 the week before.”
Allegations of racism pock Trump’s presidency.

“In unguarded moments with senior aides, President Trump has maintained that Black Americans have mainly themselves to blame in their struggle for equality, hindered more by lack of initiative than societal impediments, according to current and former U.S. officials,” Greg Miller reports. “After phone calls with Jewish lawmakers, Trump has muttered that Jews ‘are only in it for themselves’ and ‘stick together’ in an ethnic allegiance that exceeds other loyalties, officials said. Trump’s private musings about Hispanics match the vitriol he has displayed in public, and his antipathy to Africa is so ingrained that when first lady Melania Trump planned a 2018 trip to that continent he railed that he ‘could never understand why she would want to go there.’ When challenged on these views by subordinates, Trump has invariably responded with indignation. … 

Over 3½ years in office, he has presided over a sweeping U.S. government retreat from the front lines of civil rights, endangering decades of progress against voter suppression, housing discrimination and police misconduct. His immigration policies hark back to quota systems of the 1920s that were influenced by the junk science of eugenics, and have involved enforcement practices — including the separation of small children from their families — that seemed designed to maximize trauma on Hispanic migrants. … After rolling back regulations designed to encourage affordable housing for minorities, Trump declared himself the champion of the ‘Suburban Lifestyle Dream.’ He ordered aides to revamp racial sensitivity training at federal agencies so that it no longer refers to ‘White privilege.’ … And officials said Trump regretted reducing prison sentences when it didn’t produce a spike in Black voter support.

“Several current and former administration officials, somewhat paradoxically, cited Trump’s nonracial biases and perceived limitations as exculpatory. Several officials said that Trump is not a disciplined enough thinker to grasp the full dimensions of the white nationalist agenda, let alone embrace it. Others pointed out that they have observed him making far more offensive comments about women, insisting that his scorn is all-encompassing and therefore shouldn’t be construed as racist. …

“A Washington Post tally identified 59 people who have held Cabinet positions or served in top White House jobs including chief of staff, press secretary and national security adviser since Trump took office. Only seven have been people of color, including Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who are of Lebanese heritage. Only one — Ben Carson, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development — is Black. … Of the 248 judges confirmed or nominated since Trump took office, only eight were Black and eight were Hispanic, according to records compiled by NPR News.”

A New York Supreme Court justice orders Eric Trump to sit for a deposition by Oct. 7. 

This timely reminder of why every judge matters is part of the New York attorney general's examination of the Trump Organization's financial practices. "The ruling was handed down by New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron after nearly two hours of arguments in a lawsuit brought by state investigators conducting the civil investigation,” Shayna Jacobs reports. “The president’s company is managed now by his two sons, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., both of whom have taken active roles in their father’s reelection efforts. An attorney for Eric Trump said during Wednesday’s hearing that the president’s son travels nearly seven days a week to make campaign-related appearances. … The judge also ordered that the Trump Organization and related business entities that were withholding documents and claiming attorney-client privilege proceed with producing records to the attorney general.” 

Trump is eyeing “concrete legal steps” against social media sites for alleged bias against conservatives.

“Speaking at an event at the White House, Trump blasted the tech industry for incubating a ‘small group of powerful technology platforms’ that now have ‘tightened their grip over commerce and communications in America.’ In doing so, he said tech giants have bent ‘at the urging of the radical left’ to limit the reach of conservative users, including himself, even though he retains a vast audience online,” Tony Romm reports. “Such attacks aren’t new for Trump, who for years has charged that Facebook, Google, Twitter and other popular Web platforms limit the reach of prominent conservative users and news sites. He often has provided scant evidence for his claims, which tech companies vehemently deny. … But the president has ratcheted up his attacks in recent months, as social media companies increasingly take more active, aggressive steps to limit Trump’s most controversial tweets and posts — particularly out of concern they may seed doubts about the legitimacy of the 2020 election and in some cases carry the potential to incite violence." 

The president delivered his threats alongside nine Republican state attorneys general. Some of them echoed Trump’s unproven belief that technology companies exhibit political bias against conservatives. Attorney General Bill Barr then encouraged the GOP leaders in attendance to take action unilaterally by using their own states laws to target tech companies when possible.

  • TikTok filed for a preliminary injunction to block Trump's ban of its app from U.S. app stores this weekend. (Rachel Lerman)
  • The Department of Homeland Security awarded $6 million in contracts to a firm where the wife of Acting Secretary Chad Wolf is an executive. (NBC News)
  • “White House aides took unprecedented steps to ‘commandeer’ a pre-publication review of a book by former Trump national security adviser John Bolton and erroneously claimed it contained classified information to prevent its public release, a lawyer for a career official told a court Wednesday,” Spencer Hsu and Rosalind Helderman report. “Kenneth L. Wainstein, an attorney for the official who conducted the clearance review, Ellen Knight, wrote that she came forward to warn against the ‘politicization’ of government proceedings."
  • The Senate GOP probe into Hunter Biden wound up raising new questions about Rick Perry’s role in adding two of his friends to the board of Ukraine’s national gas company, Naftogaz. “Amos Hochstein, a former Joe Biden adviser on the Naftogaz board, told the committees that while in Trump’s cabinet, Perry successfully pressured Kyiv to get Robert Bensh and Michael Bleyzer, both of whom have personal natural gas interests, on Naftogaz’s board. Their own companies later secured favorable business deals in Ukraine,” the Daily Beast reports.
House Democrats unveil a proposal to “prevent future presidential abuses.” 

“The package, which its architects have informally referred to as ‘post-Trump reforms,’ includes measures to restrain the president’s power to grant pardons and declare national emergencies, to prevent federal officials from enriching themselves and to accelerate the process of enforcing congressional subpoenas in court. It also includes provisions to protect inspectors general and whistleblowers, increase penalties for officials who subvert congressional appropriations or engage in overt political activity and safeguard against foreign election interference,” Karoun Demirjian reports. “Taken together, the measures represent the Democrats’ attempt to correct what they have identified as systematic deficiencies during the course of  Trump’s tenure and impeachment, in the style of changes Congress adopted after Richard Nixon left office. Unlike the post-Watergate reforms, however, which took years to enact, today’s House Democrats have collected their proposed changes under one bill reflecting several measures that have been percolating piecemeal through the House.” 

Divided America

A Kentucky grand jury declines to file homicide charges in the death of Breonna Taylor.

The jury determined that two officers involved in the fatal raid were justified in firing their weapons into her apartment, while another was charged with recklessly firing rounds into a neighboring unit. “Hours after the announcement, Louisville police reported that two officers had been shot downtown around 8:30 p.m. as protests were underway," Kevin Williams, Tim Craig and Marisa Iati report. "They were in stable condition with non-life-threatening injuries Wednesday night, interim police chief Robert Schroeder said during a news conference. A suspect was in custody, Schroeder said. After a four-month investigation into Taylor’s death on March 13, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron (R) made the announcement at a news conference that he said marked the end of the state’s formal investigation into a death that has galvanized the nation’s Black Lives Matter movement. Cameron said the two officers who shot Taylor while serving a warrant at her apartment after midnight were justified in firing at the 26-year-old emergency room technician because her boyfriend fired at them first after they used a battering ram to break into the unit.

Brett Hankison, who was fired from the force in June, was charged with three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment for allegedly firing multiple rounds that tore into a neighboring apartment. A judge set Hankison’s bail at $15,000. Hankison was booked Wednesday and released from jail after posting bond … The announcement drew criticism from Taylor’s family, their attorney, and several celebrities and activists, who said that Cameron and the jury had disregarded the life of an innocent Black woman. They said the decision left them again questioning the fairness of the U.S. justice system. …

“In a news conference, Cameron said … none of the six homicide charges under Kentucky law applied to Taylor’s death because the officers had acted in self-defense. … Cameron, a former top aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), urged the ‘celebrities, influencers and activists’ who have taken up Taylor’s cause in recent months to avoid second-guessing … In response to the demonstrations, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer (D) announced a curfew from 9 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. through Friday and requested that Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) deploy the National Guard. Guard personnel in Humvees could be seen patrolling parts of the city … 

“Cameron’s announcement quickly became a part of the presidential campaign, with Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.), the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, telling reporters in Washington that there ‘is no question that Breonna Taylor and her family deserve justice yesterday, today and tomorrow.’ At the White House, Trump praised Cameron’s handling of the case and backed the attorney general’s comments that ‘mob justice is not justice.’ … Some legal observers and veteran civil rights leaders said the case exemplifies how the nation’s justice system remains heavily tilted toward law enforcement, even when it involves the death of an innocent woman with no criminal record.”

Quote of the day

“I certainly understand the pain that has been brought about by the tragic death of Breonna Taylor,” Cameron said. “I understand that as a Black man.” But “if we simply act on emotion or outrage, there is no justice,” he added. “Justice is not easy. It does not fit the mold of public opinion.” (Marc Fisher)

In a late-night statement, Biden condemns violence, urges protesters to stay peaceful and presses for police reform. The Democratic nominee did not address whether he thought the decision was the correct one. “A federal investigation remains ongoing, but we do not need to wait for the final judgment of that investigation to do more to deliver justice for Breonna,” Biden said. “We need to start by addressing the use of excessive force, banning choke holds, and overhauling no-knock warrants.”

Critics are complaining that one of the segments in next Tuesday's debate is called “Race and Violence in our Cities" because they say it gives a false sense of the issue. “Instead of alluding to the concerns about racial justice and police brutality that inspired the protests, liberal commentators and advocacy groups complained the phrasing suggests Trump’s framing of Black Lives Matter as an inherently violent movement,” Paul Farhi and Elahe Izadi report.

With the decision, the summer’s anguished protests get a fresh impetus for the fall. “Demonstrations were held around the country, including in Atlanta, Chicago, New York, Washington and Philadelphia, where protesters shouted, ‘Say her name, Breonna Taylor,’” Griff Witte and Mark Berman report. “For some, Taylor’s case was no mere tragedy. It was a grave wrong that officials weren’t even trying to make right. ‘Justice,’ said Candace Henderson, 46, a Black resident who burst into tears when she heard the news, ‘has not been served.’" 

  • Hundreds of protesters spilled into D.C.’s streets after Cameron's announcement. The demonstration was mostly peaceful, but at about 9:30 p.m., some protesters broke windows and turned over newspaper boxes as the march turned into more residential neighborhoods. (Fredrick Kunkle and Clarence Williams)
  • NBA players said they are “disappointed” and “speechless” after hearing about the ruling. LeBron James said on Instagram that he is “so, so sorry” that Taylor didn’t “receive justice.” (Ben Golliver)
  • Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) introduced a bill to ban federal law enforcement officers from wearing camouflage. (Stars and Stripes)
  • Wells Fargo CEO Charlie Scharf apologized after blaming a shortage of Black talent for his bank’s lack of diversity. (Hamza Shaban)
Alaska mining executive Tom Collier resigns after bragging about his influence over politicians.

“Collier, CEO of the Pebble Limited Partnership, offered his resignation a day after the group Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) released recordings of Zoom calls in which he talked of currying favor with the White House and Alaska lawmakers to win federal approval for a massive gold and copper mine,” Juliet Eilperin reports. “Collier and Ronald Thiessen, CEO of the Canadian parent company, Northern Dynasty Minerals, were recorded separately suggesting that GOP politicians would not block Pebble Mine even though some had raised concerns about its environmental impact. Collier, who served as chief of staff to then-Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt under President Bill Clinton, stood to receive $12.4 million in bonuses if the federal government approved a key permit for the mine and it could be upheld in court. … After the tapes became public Tuesday, several politicians mentioned by Collier and Thiessen in the recordings sought to distance themselves from the men. … 

“Thiessen, who was caught on tape disparaging GOP Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan of Alaska, offered an apology Wednesday but did not step down from his post. … Chris Wood, president of the conservation group Trout Unlimited, said in a phone interview that Collier’s resignation marked a blow for a project that does not deserve federal approval. ‘Tom Collier is a fall guy for a project that is fundamentally flawed and has essentially been a flimflam operation from the very beginning,’ Wood said. … In the taped conversations, Thiessen and Collier suggested that while they were seeking a permit for a 20-year operation, it might expand and last for as long as 180 years.”

Wildfire danger in the West will escalate as an intense heat dome builds over the weekend. 

“A large area of high pressure, or a heat dome, is projected to build across the West at the same time as a large dip, or trough, in the jet stream delivers cold air to the Midwest and East beginning this weekend and continuing into early October,” Andrew Freedman and Diana Leonard report. “The bifurcated weather pattern, with a warm West and a cool East, will favor unusually hot conditions as well as little to no opportunities for badly needed rain in the hardest-hit areas such as Butte County, Calif., where 15 were killed in the North Complex Fire. That fire had burned 299,723 acres and was 74 percent contained as of Tuesday.”

The coronavirus

A massive genetic study finds that the virus is mutating. 

“Scientists in Houston on Wednesday released a study of more than 5,000 genetic sequences of the coronavirus that reveals the virus’s continual accumulation of mutations, one of which may have made it more contagious,” Chris Mooney, Joel Achenbach and Joe Fox report. “The new report, however, did not find that these mutations have made the virus deadlier or changed clinical outcomes. All viruses accumulate genetic mutations, and most are insignificant. … Every mutation is a roll of the dice, and with transmission so widespread in the United States … the virus has had abundant opportunities to change, potentially with troublesome consequences, said study author James Musser of Houston Methodist Hospital. … David Morens, a virologist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, reviewed the new study and said the findings point to the strong possibility that the virus, as it has moved through the population, has become more transmissible, and that this ‘may have implications for our ability to control it.’"

Trump will sign an executive order related to preexisting conditions. It's for show.

“Trump is pushing advisers to deliver health-care ‘wins’ in the final weeks of the campaign, leading to a frenzied rollout of proposals as polls show the president’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and health-care policy are two of his biggest vulnerabilities in his reelection bid,” Josh Dawsey and Yasmeen Abutaleb report. “Trump is scheduled to deliver a speech [today] in Charlotte, broadly outlining how he would approach health-care policy in a second term, though the speech is likely to be light on details. … He is expected to mostly avoid speaking about repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, something he has long promised to do but a position that is unpopular with voters. 

"Advisers also expect Trump to sign an executive order promising to protect people with preexisting conditions as part of Thursday’s event, though the administration has not detailed how this objective could be achieved without the safeguards in President Barack Obama’s signature 2010 health-care law, according to another senior administration official. Experts have said such an executive order would amount to little more than a public relations ploy, and the order is not viewed as a substantive policy proposal among many West Wing advisers.Paige Winfield Cunningham explained in Tuesday's Health 202 how the coronavirus could be considered a preexisting condition if Obamacare is struck down by the Supreme Court. 

Trump is exuding optimism about the pandemic in a bet that voters will come around.

“The president has told advisers that his instincts will be proved right, that people want to gather at events and are less frightened of the virus than they were before. Several campaign officials said they believe Biden is making a mistake with his cautious approach, which has precluded any big rallies and most in-person voter outreach,” Michael Scherer and Dawsey report. “The campaign plans to stage large events several times a week in battleground states going forward, in an attempt to show that the nation is reopening. Trump has pushed in his events for everything from schools to college football to resume a normal schedule, and he has vowed that coming economic gains will be unprecedented.

Several internal polls by Democratic groups have detected some signs of an improving outlook among the public since cases peaked in the summer. But the same surveys point to continued high levels of fear over infection and a majority disapproval of Trump’s response to the virus. … Several Republican pollsters, though less public about their concern, have come to similar conclusions.” One prominent Republican pollster, who said he spoke on the condition of anonymity because he does not want to “worry about starting his car,” thinks “the cake is baked”: “The only thing that is going to change the election is possibly a debate performance. The reason that the president has such a problem on coronavirus is he didn’t seem to care about it for so long.”

Trump attacks the FDA for establishing tougher standards for the approval of a vaccine.

“Trump said he had ‘tremendous trust in these massive companies’ developing prospective vaccines and suggested that they, not federal regulators, could best determine when a vaccine should be made available to the American people," Amy Goldstein and Laurie McGinley report. "Trump suggested that the vaccine makers were getting good results in their late-stage trials. In fact, the trials have not produced any results — it’s too early. The White House, the FDA and the companies do not know yet whether the vaccines work.”

  • Dana Milbank: “Seven months into the pandemic, Trump’s testing plan enters its second wave of failure.”
  • Leana Wen: “We’ve reached 200,000 deaths. Our response has gotten even worse than it was at 100,000.”
Debbie Birx is questioning how much longer she can remain in the White House. 

“Birx has confided to aides and friends that she has become so unhappy with what she sees as her diminished role as coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force that she is not certain how much longer she can serve in her position,” CNN reports. “Birx has told people around her that she is ‘distressed’ with the direction of the task force, describing the situation inside the nation's response to the coronavirus as nightmarish. According to people familiar with her thinking, Birx views Dr. Scott Atlas, a recent addition to the task force, as an unhealthy influence on Trump's thinking when it comes to the virus.” 

  • Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (R) and his wife tested positive for the virus, prompting both to isolate and cancel a debate with his Democratic challenger Nicole Galloway. (Post-Dispatch)
  • The caseload in the D.C. region has ticked down to its lowest point in two months. While the number of cases has slightly declined in the region, officials said they are making preparations for a possible second wave. (Rebecca Tan and Tim Richardson
  • Disney announced months-long delays for its biggest movies, signaling that the pandemic’s effects will last well into next year. (Steven Zeitchik

The new world order

China is building vast new detention centers for Muslims in Xinjiang.

“It is a new detention camp spanning some 60 acres, opened as recently as January. With 13 five-story residential buildings, it can accommodate more than 10,000 people,” Anna Fifield reports. “The Kashgar site is among dozens of prisonlike detention centers that Chinese authorities have built across the Xinjiang region, according to the Xinjiang Data Project, an initiative of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), despite Beijing’s claims that it is winding down its internationally denounced effort to ‘reeducate’ the Uighur population after deeming the campaign a success. A recent visit to Xinjiang by The Post and evidence compiled by ASPI, a ­Canberra-based think tank, suggest international pressure and outrage have done little to slow China’s crackdown, which appears to be entering an ominous new phase.” 

  • As repression deepens, Hong Kong police arrested activist Joshua Wong for wearing a mask. The latest arrest adds to the litany of charges Wong is already facing for his political activism. (Shibani Mahtani)
  • Seoul says North Korean troops executed a missing South Korean official. The man disappeared from a patrol boat in what may have been an ill-fated attempt to defect. He was later killed, and his body was burned by North Koreans. (Min Joo Kim and Simon Denyer)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brings his dirty laundry to D.C. to have it cleaned. Literally.

“Over the years, the Israeli leader has developed a reputation among the staff at the U.S. president’s guesthouse for bringing special cargo on his trips to Washington: bags and suitcases full of dirty laundry, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter,” John Hudson reports. “The clothes are cleaned for the prime minister free of charge by the U.S. staff, a perk that is available to all foreign leaders but sparingly taken advantage of given the short stays of busy heads of state.” 

  • In India, engineers and MBAs are turning to manual labor to survive the economic crash. More than 120 million jobs were lost during the country’s lockdown. (Niha Masih and Joanna Slater)
  • Economic fallout from the coronavirus has led to a surge in Tunisians leaving for Europe. As lockdowns cause desperation, six times as many Tunisians have crossed the Mediterranean to Italy as last year. (Claire Parker)
  • Venezuela’s broken oil industry is spewing crude into the Caribbean Sea. The once powerful sector has suffered years of mismanagement, corruption, falling prices and, now, a U.S. embargo. (Mariana Zúñiga and Anthony Faiola)
  • The E.U. is proposing an immigration deal that would require countries to take a share of asylum seekers or assist in deportations. (Chico Harland and Michael Birnbaum
  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged to create 1 million jobs and make a “significant” investment in child care during a speech laying out his priorities for a new session of Parliament. (Amanda Coletta
  • Nearly 500 pilot whales in Australia became stranded over the past week, and about 380 have died so far, in one of the largest mass beachings in recorded history. (Rick Noack)
The secretary of state is traveling to campaign-style events across America. 

“Casting aside a long tradition of the nation’s top diplomat shunning partisan politics, [Mike] Pompeo gave a speech on Wednesday in the swing state of Wisconsin, marking his participation in the fourth event this month alone that goes well beyond what previous secretaries of state have done in support of the presidents they have served,” the AP reports. “From the Republican National Convention, which he addressed by recorded video from Israel, to an evangelical megachurch in Texas over the weekend and the Value Voters Summit in Washington just on Tuesday, Pompeo has not been shy … Pompeo’s home state of Kansas has been a frequent destination, but he has also spoken in Tennessee, Florida and Kentucky.”

Social media speed read

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R), who has refused to issue a mask mandate as her state sees a surge in cases, appears to be laying the groundwork for a 2024 presidential bid with stunts like this: 

Hunter Biden's daughter defended her dad after the Senate GOP put out a report attacking him:

Videos of the day

The leading candidate for Ginsburg's seat said four years ago that it would be inappropriate to confirm a justice during an election year:

Stephen Colbert said Trump is America’s “racist uncle”: 

Seth Meyers criticized Trump for claiming that younger Americans aren’t getting sick with the virus: