White House chief of staff says 'we're not going to control pandemic', after Pence staffers test positive

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Here’s a quick overview of what happened today: The Senate, whi.....Democrats:

Summary

Here’s a quick overview of what happened today:

  • The Senate, which is in the middle of a special weekend session, made its final step toward confirming Amy Coney Barrett to the US Supreme Court. Senate Republicans overrode a Democratic filibuster and are set to confirm Barrett tomorrow night.
  • White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said in an interview with CNN that the president is “not going to control the pandemic”. The unusually candid statement gave insight into the mindset of a White House that has, from the beginning, played down the effect of the coronavirus.
  • Meanwhile, the US merely set a new Covid case record on Saturday, coming close to the 83,757 cases that were reported on Friday – the highest number in a single day – at 83,718 new cases. US health officials have for weeks voiced concerns of a new surge as the weather gets colder, and people stay indoors where the virus is more likely to spread.

We’ll be back tomorrow with more live updates. Thanks for reading.

A ballot drop box that held more than 120 ballots was set on fire in Boston earlier Sunday. The box was outside the Boston Public Library in downtown Boston. Police say that the fire appears to have been a “deliberate attack”.

Officials said that of the 122 ballots that were inside the box when it was emptied, and 87 of the ballots were still legible and able to process. The Massachusetts secretary of state said that voters whose ballots were affected by the fire will be sent a new ballot and will also have the option of voting early in person, if they choose.

Security cameras around the box showed footage of a person setting fire to the box. The Boston Police Department is asking the public to help identify the person who started the fire.

In a joint statement, William Galvin, Massachusetts’ secretary of state, and Boston mayor Marty Walsh said: “We ask voters not to be intimidated by this bad act, and remain committed to making their voices heard in this and every election.”

Donald Trump Jr. posed in front of a “Don Jr. 2024” sign for a picture he posted on Instagram yesterday.

“Hahahahaha. Oh boy. This was a sign up at the Fallon Nevada Livestock Auction,” he wrote on Instagram. “This will make the lib heads explode. To whomever made that thanks for the compliment… but let’s get through 2020 with a big win first!!!!!”

Though Nevada went blue for Hillary Clinton in 2016, the state is technically a swing state that leans slightly left. Joe Biden holds a lead over Trump in the state, where Democratic voters are concentrated in Las Vegas and its surrounding suburbs while Republicans can be found in more rural areas of the state.

Donald Trump Jr, 42, is best known for being an internet provocateur, complementing his father’s brashness and inclination for sharing disinformation on Twitter. Trump hasn’t been as involved in White House policy as his sister, Ivanka, and her husband, Jared Kushner, nor has he been as active in running the Trump Organization as his brother, Eric, but Don Jr. has seemed to be the Trump offspring most inclined to politics and has turned into a valuable asset for his father’s campaign.

“Don Jr. represents the emotional center of the MAGA universe,” Jason MIller, a senior advisor on Trump’s campaign, told the New York Times.

While Trump has only joked about running for office, a Vice reporter suggested that Pennsylvania Republicans were floating the idea of Trump replacing a Republican Senator from the state who will be retiring. Trump himself has not spoken about the Pennsylvania Senate seat.

At least 58 million Americans have voted in the 2020 general election through early voting, according to Michael McDonald, a professor at the University of Florida who is running the US Election Project that’s keeping tabs on early voting count.

Using individual state reports with ballot counts, the project estimates that 39.7 million Americans have voted by mail while 19 million have voted early in-person. Over 19 million of the total early votes come from California, Texas and Florida – the states with the highest population. Across 19 states that provide party registration with their reports, 13 million have been Democrat while 7 million are Republican. Another 6 million are registered independents.

On Twitter, McDonald pointed out that Texas has hit nearly 80% of the total turnout in the state in 2016. McDonald has suggested that this election could have the highest voter turnout since 1908, with an estimated 65% of eligible voters participating in the election.

Joining the group of early voters is this interesting group of Joe Biden supporters in Nevada.

From the Guardian’s Richard Luscombe in Miami:

Born in Hawaii with deep roots in Chicago, Barack Obama is far removed from the traditional image of Florida Man. But with two appearances here in four days stumping for Joe Biden, the former president is relishing the atmosphere of the Sunshine State in the final days of the 2020 campaign.

On Tuesday, Obama will follow up Saturday’s skewering of Donald Trump at a drive-in rally in North Miami with a similar gathering in Orlando, the exact details yet to be released by the Biden campaign.

But the event means that, inside 96 hours, Obama will have made the same number of Florida appearances campaigning for his former vice-president that he did for Hillary Clinton in the last weeks of her run for the White House four years ago,

“Oh, it’s good to be back in Florida,” Obama told the crowd in North Miami, shortly after paying a surprise visit to thank campaign workers in the nearby city of Miami Springs who helped him carry the state in 2008 and 2012.

“You delivered twice for me, Florida. And now I’m asking you to deliver for Joe and deliver for Kamala.”

Obama’s role in flipping Florida back blue after Trump seized the state by barely 1.2 percent in 2016 is more than just symbolic. Popular with Hispanic voters to a level that Biden has not been able to achieve, his messaging in a state where 2.5 million Latinos make up 17 percent of the electorate is crucial.

On Saturday, he attacked Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and noted it had “hit African Americans and Latinos harder than anybody in Florida.”

It is a point he is certain to press again on Tuesday in Orlando, the heart of the I-4 corridor with a significant Hispanic population, including about 300,000 Puerto Ricans.

The demographic also offers Obama another opportunity to slam Trump. Criticism of the president’s handling of 2017’s Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island, was loud among Central Florida’s Puerto Rican community, with images of Trump casually tossing rolls of paper towels to suffering residents still fresh.

“When a hurricane devastates Puerto Rico, a president’s supposed to help it rebuild, not toss paper towels [or] withhold billions of dollars in aid until just before an election,” Obama told the crowd in Miami.

Expect more of the same in Orlando on Tuesday as Trump, the ultimate Florida Man, gets roasted by his nemesis once again.

Joe Biden released a statement in response to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows’ interview with CNN today where he said that the White House is not going to control the pandemic.

“We’re not going to control the pandemic. We’re going to control the fact that we get a vaccine, therapeutics and other mitigation,” Meadows told CNN’s Jake Tapper.

Biden said that the interview wasn’t a slip-up, but “a candid acknowledgement of what President Trump’s strategy has clearly been from the beginning of this crisis: to wave the white flag of defeat and hope that by ignoring it, the virus would simply go away. It hasn’t, and it won’t.”

Vladimir Putin has made it clear that he’s happy with Donald Trump’s coziness with Russia, but the Kremlin today contradicted Trump and said that he doesn’t believe Joe Biden’s ties with Ukraine are criminal.

Trump used Thursday’s debate with Biden as an opportunity to accuse Biden’s son of having unethical ties to Ukraine, accusations that have not been verified and that Biden has denied.

According to Reuters, Putin said today that he is willing to work with any US leader, but noted that Biden has “sharp anti-Russian rhetoric”. Here’s more from the Reuters report:

Putin appeared less friendly towards Trump in remarks broadcast by Russian state TV on Sunday. In what may be seen by some analysts as an attempt to try to curry favour with the Biden camp, the Russian presdient took the time to knock down what he made clear he regarded as false allegations from Trump about the Bidens.

“Yes, in Ukraine he [Hunter Biden] had or maybe still has a business, I don’t know. It doesn’t concern us. It concerns the Americans and the Ukrainians,” said Putin.

“But well yes he had at least one company, which he practically headed up, and judging from everything he made good money. I don’t see anything criminal about this, at least we don’t know anything about this [being criminal]”.

Mike Pence, who as vice president is technically the president of the Senate, is coming under criticism from Democrats for planning to come into the chamber to preside over the vote for Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.

At a rally in Florida yesterday, Pence said “I wouldn’t miss that vote for the world”. Pence’s appearance would be symbolic as he does not need to be physically present in the Senate for the confirmation to go through.

Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer denounced Pence’s plan to attend the vote tomorrow, saying it sets “a terrible, terrible example for the American public”.

“It is clear to me that their closing message is that they’re going to personally deliver Covid to as many people as possible,” Brian Schatz, a Democratic senator for Hawaii, told a reporter.

At least five people close to Pence, including his chief of staff, have tested positive for Covid-19. A White House official said Sunday that Pence and his wife have tested negative for the virus. His office said that the vice president does not plan to quarantine. Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say a person should quarantine for 14 days if they were in close contact with a person who tested positive, even if they themselves do not have symptoms or tested negative.

Pence, who is head of the White House’s coronavirus task force, has said that he can bypass CDC guidelines because he is an essential worker – a claim that has been questioned by health experts.

Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York state, is having a field day over the comments of the White House chief of staff Mark Meadows this morning. In a rare moment of transparency, Meadows admitted to a Sunday political talk show that the Trump administration had no intention of containing coronavirus, saying: “We’re not going to control the pandemic”.

Cuomo said that thinking was tantamount to giving in to the virus. “They surrendered without firing a shot. It was the great American surrender,” he said on Sunday, as reported by the Daily News.

The New York governor said that the Trump administration’s approach to Covid was summed up from the start by such capitulation. “They have believed from the beginning that they can’t control the virus,” he said.

By contrast, Cuomo prides himself on having wrestled coronavirus to the ground. After a bad start to the pandemic, which saw New York City become the world’s top hotspot, the rate of infection has been reduced to one of the lowest in the country through an aggressive program of testing and contact tracing.

There have been a total of almost 500,000 confirmed cases in the state, and 25,730 deaths. About 120,000 New Yorkers are being tested every day.

“What we learned in New York was, if you put up a fight you will have won. Because New York won,” Cuomo said.

After the Senate voted to move forward with the final vote to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, Mitch McConnell spoke on the Senate floor, celebrating the lasting influence of the vote for posterity.

“By tomorrow night, we’ll have a new member of the United States Supreme Court,” he told the chamber.

McConnell acknowledged that this election could change the tide in Washington but said that not much could be done to change the nature of the court “for a long time to come”.

One Capitol Hill reporter noted that it appears the bruising on McConnell’s face and hands that were seen on Friday appeared to have gotten better. Apparently, getting three judges onto the Supreme Court in four years can do wonders to one’s health.

Updated

Senate to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to Supreme Court tomorrow

The Senate just made a 51-48 vote to move forward with the final vote for Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Republicans overrode a Democratic filibuster with today’s vote, and the final vote for her confirmation will take place tomorrow night.

With the Republican majority in the Senate, Barrett’s nomination is pretty much a guarantee, despite weeks of criticism from Democrats about a Supreme Court nomination weeks before the presidential election.

Updated

The NFL has fined the Tennessee Titans $350,000 for violating protocols leading to the league’s first Covid-19 outbreak during the season, multiple outlets are reporting.

The Titans had 24 people, including 13 players, test positive for the coronavirus between 24 September and 11 October. The outbreak led the NFL to postpone two Tennessee games and the rescheduling of a game against Pittsburgh from 4 October to today and the second against Buffalo from 11 October to 13 October.

The league and its players association sent officials, including infectious disease experts, to Nashville where they reviewed video and interviewed players, coaches and other personnel.

ESPN reports the NFL informed the Titans last week that their review had concluded and the organization would face a potential fine. Individuals would not be disciplined and there was no discussion of forfeiture of draft picks.

One of the more surprising headlines of the day comes from the Wall Street Journal in: Health Agency Halts Coronavirus Ad Campaign, Leaving Santa Claus in the Cold.

The WSJ reports that the Trump administration offered Santa Claus performers a deal: if they agreed to promote a Covid-19 vaccine, they would get early access to it. The story says that performers playing Mrs Claus or elves would also have been included. But the plan has now been called off.

The article continues:

Ric Erwin, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas, called the news “extremely disappointing”, adding: “this was our greatest hope for Christmas 2020, and now it looks like it won’t happen.”

You can read more of this belter at the Wall Street Journal (although it’s behind a paywall).

The US Senate has started day two of a rare weekend session to continue debate over the confirmation of federal appeals court judge Amy Coney Barrett to the supreme court.

Democrats have expressed outrage at the vacancy being filled so close to the election – in fact boycotting Thursday’s vote to advance her nomination to the full Senate – but the Republicans’ 53-47 majority in the upper chamber ensures they have the votes they need to approve her nomination and cement a 6-3 conservative majority on the high court for years to come.

No supreme court nominee has ever been installed so close to a presidential election and, just four years ago, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and senator Lindsey Graham, who now chairs the judiciary committee, said that installing a nominee in an election year would be a shameful defiance of the will of voters.

Barrett, 48, is expected to be confirmed Monday and quickly join the court.

  • This post was amended on 25 October 2020 to give the correct figure for the Republicans’ senate majority.

Updated

More from Richard Luscombe…

Joe Biden’s deputy campaign manager, Kate Bedingfield, was grilled on NBC’s Meet the Press about the Democrat nominee’s “light physical footprint”.

To the backdrop of a graphic comparing Biden’s appearances since September in four key battleground states – North Carolina, Arizona, Florida and Pennsylvania – to Trump’s (the president leads 19-14), host Chuck Todd wanted to know why Biden was concentrating heavily on Georgia instead of more northerly swing states.

The answer: Biden is “focused on maintaining as many paths to 270 electoral votes as we possibly can.” Bedingfield also pointed out that at a scheduled appearance in Warm Springs, Georgia, on Tuesday, Biden would deliver his closing arguments at a place “which obviously has historical significance in this country”.

Warm Springs is the resort town where the 32nd president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, built his Little White House, a cottage he used while suffering from polio in the 1930s.

“Vice-President Biden has visited all of these battleground states multiple times,” Bedingfield said. “He was in Pennsylvania yesterday, doing two events, along with Dr [Jill] Biden. So no, we have been very aggressively campaigning.

“Here’s the difference between what we’re doing and what Donald Trump is doing, we’re doing it safely.”

Bedingfield noted that the president’s rallies feature large, mostly maskless crowds with no social distancing.

A new CBS poll, meanwhile, showed Biden tied with Trump in Georgia and holding narrow leads in other southern battlegrounds, including Florida and North Carolina.

Todd also pressed Bedingfield on Biden’s comments at last week’s final debate about the oil industry. Why, he wondered, would oil workers in Texas or elsewhere support a candidate who supports a transition away from the industry at a risk to their jobs?

“There is only one person in this country who Joe Biden thinks should lose his job and it’s Donald Trump,” she said.

“Joe Biden … is not going to end the fossil fuel industry, he’s going to end subsidies for the oil industry. He believes your taxpayer dollars should go to education. Donald Trump believes they should go to Exxon. That’s a conversation we’re willing to have any day.”

A CBS News/YouGov poll of three southern battleground states finds Joe Biden in a dead heat with Donald Trump in Georgia with slight edges in Florida (by two points) and North Carolina (by four).

Some other key findings from CBS News:

• Early voters in each told us they favored Joe Biden, but those who have not yet voted favor Donald Trump, setting up a key turnout test running now through Election Day for both parties.

• Very different views on the coronavirus outbreak still shape the race in all these states. In all, most Biden voters are very concerned about getting it, and Trump’s voters, by comparison, are far less concerned. Biden also gets better marks overall on how he would handle the outbreak.

• Biden voters are more likely to say the outbreak and a candidate’s personal character are major factors in their vote. For Trump voters, the economy and immigration are the biggest factors.

• In splits among key demographic groups, Biden currently leads among White women with college degrees in Florida and North Carolina; and across all three states it’s shifts from 2016 that are helping Biden. In Georgia, White voters without college degrees – both men and women – tend to like how Trump handles himself personally and dislike Biden’s approach. Biden is cutting into Trump’s 2016 margins with seniors in Florida and Georgia, cutting Trump’s 2016 advantage in half. In North Carolina Biden has a two-point edge with seniors.

Last week Trump was forced to play defense when he staged a prime-time rally in Georgia, which no Republican presidential candidate has lost since George HW Bush in 1992 – a far cry from his original designs on expanding the map into Democratic-leaning states.

Donald Trump
An evangelical Trump supporter’s banner in displayed on a fence outside rural central Georgia home. The state has been largely conservative in past elections. Photograph: Robin Rayne/ZUMA Wire/REX/Shutterstock

Updated

After Donald Trump reportedly told donors it would be “tough” for Republicans to hold the Senate, and said there were some senators he could not and did not want to help, party chair Ronna McDaniel insisted: “I don’t see these senators distancing themselves from the president.”

Trump’s comments, to donors in Nashville, Tennessee before this week’s debate with Joe Biden, were reported by the Washington Post.

In fact senators including Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Martha McSally of Arizona and John Cornyn of Texas have recently sought to put daylight between themselves and the unpopular president as the party faces strong headwinds at the polls.

Sasse predicted a “Senate bloodbath” and criticised Trump’s views and behaviour; McSally dodged attempts to make her express support for Trump during a campaign debate; and Cornyn sought to portray himself as an independent thinker on key policy issues.

Sasse is a shoo-in for re-election in Nebraska but McSally faces defeat in Arizona and Cornyn is in an unexpectedly tight race in Texas.

“You know I don’t see these senators distancing themselves from the president,” McDaniel insisted on Fox News Sunday. “I mean Ben Sasse is an exception, obviously.”

Asked about McSally’s answers to the question “Are you proud of your support for President Trump?” – repeated statements that she was “proud to be fighting for Arizona every single day” – McDaniel said: “She’s going to rallies with him and she’s all over the state with him. Martha McSally supports the president.”

McDaniel also said Trump “has done more for the senators with what he’s done with helping the Win Red platform, with small-dollar online fundraising, with the ground game the RNC has put in place and all of these states. We want to keep the Senate.”

Calmer seas returned to CNN’s State of the Union studio following the tempest of the Mark Meadows interview. House speaker Nancy Pelosi told host Jake Tapper she remains “hopeful” of a coronavirus relief bill perhaps this week, despite Republicans “moving the goalposts”.

A week ago, Pelosi insisted only 48 hours remained for Democrats and Republicans to strike an agreement that would bring relief before election day. That didn’t happen, but Pelosi said they are still open to talking.

“We’re ready. We can change some words in the bill, should they come back with some modifications,” Pelosi said, claiming her side was still waiting for answers over some of the differences.

“Why would we even be talking to each other if we didn’t believe that we could reach an agreement? So again, it could happen this week, but that’s up to Mitch [McConnell, the Senate majority leader] as to whether it would happen in the Senate and go to the president’s desk.”

Republicans in Congress have been trying to negotiate downwards the $2.2tn Democrats are proposing, and saw their $500bn bill blocked this week. Donald Trump, meanwhile, has said he’s open to more.

“It only takes more money,” Pelosi said, referring to a key aim of the relief bill, namely the safe reopening of schools.

“That is for separation, for ventilation, for technology, for more teachers and the rest. Children learning, parents earning. Education is another policy piece where we have some disagreement, otherwise we can negotiate.

“We’re waiting. Every time they say we move the goalposts, that means they’re projecting what they did, but let’s just be hopeful. We’re nine days before an election. We’re trying to unify the country and one way to do it is to come together to crush the virus, so that we can open our economy, open our schools and feed 17 million children who are food insecure in our country.”

The speaker said she sent questions to McConnell on Friday, and is expecting answers Monday.

“In our bill, science dictates what we do,” she said. “We can lower the incidence of the virus in certain areas, open schools, open businesses and the rest. If we don’t, we’re just giving money to the president to spend any way he wants, and that has not been in furtherance of crushing the virus.”

Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has given an interview to the BBC’s Andrew Marr. He tempers Donald Trump’s claims that there will be a vaccine by the end of the year, calling the statement correct but noting that a wide rollout will take “several months into 2021” and early use will focus on vulnerable populations and healthcare workers.

“We will know whether a vaccine is safe and effective by the end of November, the beginning of December,” Fauci said. “When you talk about vaccinating a substantial proportion of the population, so that you can have a significant impact on the dynamics of the outbreak, that very likely will not be until the second or third quarter of the year.”

He also says it’s “very important” for politicians and public figures to follow the science. “You can positively or negatively influence behavior,” he says. “It would really be a shame if we have a safe and effective vaccine but a substantial portion of the people don’t want to take the vaccine because they don’t trust authority.”

Dr Anthony Fauci on the Andrew Marr show.

He also says it’s “obvious” that the idea of injecting bleach, notoriously raised by Trump earlier this year, is not following the science. When asked whether Trump’s suggestion that he is now immune and could “come down and start kissing everybody” is following the science, he says “you know the answer to that, no it isn’t.”

He says that Trump is also not right that listening to scientists would lead to a massive depression, adding that he believes that “if we did things in a prudent way… you could follow the science and public health measures without shutting down the economy.” And he denies saying, as Trump recently suggested, that the virus “is going to go away soon”, explaining that remarks he made in January before person-to-person transmission began have been taken out of context.

When asked about Joe Biden’s claim that wearing masks could save 100,000 lives by January he says “I’m not sure about the number” but that it is true that wearing masks can save a lot of lives.

Meadows: 'We’re not going to control the pandemic'

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows has just made one of the most revealing comments to emerge from Trump’s inner circle about the president’s historic mishandling of the coronavirus crisis. On a Sunday political talk show, Meadows admitted that the federal government was not focusing on trying to control the pandemic.

Mark Meadows.
Mark Meadows. Photograph: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

“We’re not going to control the pandemic,” he told Jake Tapper on CNN’s State of the Union. “We are going to control the fact that we get a vaccine, therapeutics and other mitigation.”

Tapper pressed Meadows to explain why the administration was not going to control Covid-19, given the massive surge that is pummeling the Midwest and mountain states. He replied: “Because it is a contagious virus.”

Meadows’ statement would be astonishing at any time during the pandemic. It gives an unusually candid insight into the mindset of a White House that from the outset has played down its role in marshalling a federal effort to bring the virus under control.

The remark was all the more astounding given it’s timing. Marc Short, chief of staff to vice president Mike Pence, has just tested positive for coronavirus, as have three other VP staff and an adviser.

Yet Pence continues to travel the US, unmasked, holding campaign events, the White House avoiding the recommendation to quarantine set out by the administration’s own public health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, by calling the vice-president an “essential worker”.

Pence is in charge of the White House coronavirus task force, which a key member, Anthony Fauci, said on Friday has seen its meetings “diminish” while President Trump has not attended in “several months”.

Around the country, confirmed cases are on a steep upward curve, with Friday and Saturday recording the highest levels since the pandemic began. Hospitalisations and deaths have also begun to rise.

In a heated exchange with Tapper, Meadows repeatedly sidestepped the administration’s responsibility for this surge in numbers just nine days before the presidential election. He kept on stressing the role of therapeutics and a future vaccine in “mitigating” the number of deaths, while implying the federal government had no responsibility for the rampant spread of the virus.

Tapper asked why the vice-president continued to travel to campaign events without wearing a mask, despite having been exposed via his closest staff. Meadows tried to redirect the blame to China as the source of the virus, but Tapper continued to challenge him.

“Would you agree this is very serious, people need to take precautions?” Tapper asked.

“I agree it is very serious, but we continue to test more and more so the cases will go up,” Meadows replied.

In fact, the number of new confirmed cases is rising significantly faster than the quantity of testing.

Jamal Collins took the trouble to vote four years ago even though, like a lot of people in Cleveland, he didn’t imagine it would change very much.

Eight years of deflated hopes for Barack Obama had left the African American teacher wondering if any president could really make that much difference to the lives and livelihoods Collins saw around him. He even thought there might be an upside to the election of Donald Trump.

“I’m kinda glad it happened,” Collins said a few weeks after the new president moved into the White House. “It really is an eye-opener on what’s really going on. The real truth about America. The real truth that there’s still a lot of racism. People voted for this sort of stuff.”

A lot of people in Cleveland chose not to vote. Driven by disillusionment with Obama and dislike for Hillary Clinton, turnout fell in the overwhelmingly Democratic city where nearly half the population is black, as it did in others across the midwest, helping to usher Trump to victory.

This year, Collins sees it differently.

Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, is currently conducting a fiery interview with Jake Tapper of CNN, voices raised about the White House’s attitude to coronavirus mitigation measures and campaigning instead of steering efforts to combat the pandemic. It’s not going well. More soon. In the meantime, here’s the White House pool report:

It’s a brisk, rainy fall day at the White House.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows spoke to reporters briefly in the driveway after a Fox News interview.

He was asked about VP Pence chief of staff Marc Short’s positive coronavirus diagnosis, and was very brief in his remarks.

He said only: “We wish him well – he’s been quarantining these last few days…”

Another reporter shouted: “Why is Pence traveling – that seems insane?

And another asked: “Should anyone who is in close contact with the vice-president be quarantining?”

Meadows ignored the questions.

We’re expecting a 10.30pm Trump departure, traveling to New Hampshire and Maine. He is scheduled to be back at the White House for a Halloween event at 6.15pm.

This pooler was tested for coronavirus and is awaiting results.

Lincoln Project lawyer to Kushner and Ivanka: 'Sue if you must'

The Lincoln Project “will not be intimidated by empty bluster”, a lawyer for the group wrote late on Saturday, in response to a threat from an attorney for Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner over two billboards the group put up in Times Square.

The billboards show the president’s daughter and her husband, both senior White House advisers, showing apparent indifference to public suffering under Covid-19. Kushner is shown next to the quote “[New Yorkers] are going to suffer and that’s their problem”, above a line of body bags. Trump is shown gesturing, with a smile, to statistics for how many New Yorkers and Americans as a whole have died.

The Lincoln Project is a group of former Republican consultants who have made it their mission to attack Donald Trump and support Joe Biden.

On Friday Marc Kasowitz, an attorney who has represented the president in cases involving allegations of fraud and sexual assault, wrote to the Lincoln Project, demanding the “false, malicious and defamatory” ads be removed, or “we will sue you for what will doubtless be enormous compensatory and punitive damages”.

The Lincoln Project responded that they would not remove the billboards, citing among other things their first amendment rights of free speech.

In a legal response released on Saturday night, attorney Matthew Sanderson wrote: “Please peddle your scare tactics elsewhere. The Lincoln Project will not be intimidated by such empty bluster … your clients are no longer Upper East Side socialites, able to sue at the slightest offense to their personal sensitivities.”

Due to a “gross act of nepotism”, Sanderson wrote, Trump and Kushner have become public officials whom Americans “have the right to discuss and criticize freely”. Sanderson cited supreme court precedent and “substantial constitutional protections for those who speak out”.

Kasowitz claimed Kushner “never said” the words attributed to him on the billboards, and Trump “never made the gesture” she is shown to make.

Vanity Fair reported the Kushner quote, from a meeting on 20 March, as the pandemic gathered terrible speed, New York reeled and Kushner attacked Governor Andrew Cuomo. Trump tweeted the pose used by the Lincoln Project in July, controversially promoting Goya foods.

The “bruised self-image” of the president’s daughter “does not change the fact that this billboard accurately depicts her support of a federal response that has utterly failed to prevent an unmitigated tragedy for the United States”, Sanderson wrote.

“May I suggest,” he added, “that if Mr Kushner and Ms Trump are genuinely concerned about salvaging their reputations, they would do well to stop suppressing truthful criticism and instead turn their attention to the Covid-19 crisis that is still unfolding under their inept watch.

“These billboards are not causing [their] standing with the public to plummet. Their incompetence is.”

Sanderson also said “This isn’t over” and added: “Sue if you must.

As University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told the Guardian, that seems unlikely.

Ivanka Trump’s “father has honed litigation abuse, as a business person and president, to an art form,” Tobias said. But “if they did sue, the litigation might take years to resolve, be expensive and lead to embarrassing revelations … suits like this by people who have thrust themselves into the public eye are notoriously difficult to win.

In short, this appears to be the usual Trump family bluster.”

Barring a miracle, Amy Coney Barrett will be confirmed on Monday as the ninth justice on the US supreme court.

This is a travesty of democracy.

Barrett’s confirmation is the culmination of years in which a shrinking and increasingly conservative, rural and white segment of the US population has been imposing its will on the rest of America. They’ve been bankrolled by big business, seeking lower taxes and fewer regulations.

In the event Joe Biden becomes president on 20 January and both houses of Congress come under control of the Democrats, they can reverse this trend. It may be the last chance – both for the Democrats and, more importantly, for American democracy.

How?

US just misses new Covid case record – a day after setting it

More from the Associated Press:

“A day after the US set a daily record for new confirmed coronavirus infections, it came very close to doing it again.

Data published by Johns Hopkins University showed that 83,718 new cases were reported on Saturday, nearly matching the 83,757 infections reported on Friday. Before that, the most cases reported in the US on a single day had been 77,362 on 16 July.

Close to 8.6m Americans have contracted the coronavirus since the pandemic began, and about 225,000 have died. Both statistics are the world’s highest. India has more than 7.8m infections but its daily numbers have been declining.

US health officials have feared the surge of infections to come with colder weather and people spending more time indoors, especially as many flout guidelines to protect themselves and others such as mask-wearing and social distancing.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington currently forecasts that the country’s death toll could exceed 318,000 by 1 January.”

Good morning…

…and welcome to another day on the campaign trail, nine days out from election day now, with Joe Biden holding his polling leads, Donald Trump campaigning hard at rallies which do not adhere to Covid-19 mitigation measures and Mike Pence… seeing multiple members of his team, including chief of staff Marc Short, test positive for the coronavirus. The VP is not altering his schedule:

This while Covid case numbers are shooting to record levels nationally and in many states, and as one study predicts a death toll of 500,000 by February.

As the AP reports, “Oklahoma, Illinois, New Mexico and Michigan were among states announcing new record highs in daily confirmed cases on Saturday, a day after a nationwide daily record of more than 83,000 reported infections, according to Johns Hopkins University.

“Dr Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive, said it’s ‘now more important than ever that people take this seriously.’ The 3,338 new Covid-19 cases in her state topped the old record by more than 1,300. Michigan is of course a swing state, fought over by Trump and Biden – who is more than seven points up there. Kamala Harris, Biden’s running mate, will be in the state today.

The same Johns Hopkins count now puts the caseload at 8.5m and the death toll at more than 224,000.

Trump had a four-state campaign day on Saturday, voting in Florida before staging rallies in North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin. Today he’s speaking in New Hampshire – where the fivethirtyeight.com average puts Biden more than 11 points ahead. Trump has a habit of speaking in places where it might not seem worth the bother – he is also having to campaign in states, such as Georgia, where no Republican president would usually have to tread.

More to come, of course. In the meantime, here’s David Smith with hopeful news for Democrats:

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